Have you ever been convinced that something is a particular way only to discover you’ve remembered it all wrong? If so, it sounds like you’ve experienced the phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect.
This form of collective misremembering of common events or details first emerged in 2010, when countless people on the internet falsely remembered Nelson Mandela was dead. It was widely believed he had died in prison during the 1980s. In reality, Mandela was actually freed in 1990 and passed away in 2013 – despite some people’s claims they remember clips of his funeral on TV.
Paranormal consultant Fiona Broome coined the term “Mandela Effect” to explain this collective misremembering, and then other examples started popping up all over the internet. For instance, it was wrongly recalled that C-3PO from Star Wars was gold, actually one of his legs is silver. Likewise, people often wrongly believe that the Queen in Snow White says, “Mirror, mirror on the wall”. The correct phrase is “magic mirror on the wall”.
Broome explains the Mandela Effect via pseudoscientific theories. She claims that differences arise from movement between parallel realities (the multiverse). This is based on the theory that within each universe alternative versions of events and objects exist.
Broome also draws comparisons between existence and the holodeck of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. The holodeck was a virtual reality system, which created recreational experiences. By her explanation, memory errors are software glitches. This is explained as being similar to the film The Matrix.
Other theories propose that the Mandela Effect evidences changes in history caused by time travellers. Then there are the claims that distortions result from spiritual attacks linked to Satan, black magic or witchcraft. But although appealing to many, these theories are not scientifically testable.
Where’s the science?
Psychologists explain the Mandela Effect via memory and social effects – particularly false memory. This involves mistakenly recalling events or experiences that have not occurred, or distortion of existing memories. The unconscious manufacture of fabricated or misinterpreted memories is called confabulation. In everyday life confabulation is relatively common.
False memories occur in a number of ways. For instance, the Deese-Roediger and McDermott paradigm demonstrates how learning a list of words that contain closely related items – such as “bed” and “pillow” – produces false recognition of related, but non presented words – such as “sleep”.
Memory inaccuracy can also arise from what’s known as “source monitoring errors”. These are instances where people fail to distinguish between real and imagined events. US professor of psychology, Jim Coan, demonstrated how easily this can happen using the “Lost in the Mall” procedure.