Understanding the Mandela Effect – How do we Create False Memories?

Apr 4, 2023 | Art, Articles

the mandela effect

Film producer Robert Evans once famously said, “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth”. He was right in some aspects. People often mistakenly create false or pseudo memories. This is the essence of the Mandela effect.
This effect occurs when a large group of people believe an event occurred when it did not. There are many examples in popular culture. Those include misquoting famous movie lines and even recalling entire events that never occurred.
The Mandela effect is a perfect example how the human memory is far from perfect. It is a popular, yet, heavily debated type of false memory.

What is the Mandela Effect?

Fiona Broome coined the term more than a decade ago. She started a website detailed her recollections of former South African President Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. Of course, Mandela did not die in prison in the 1980s.
In fact, he served 27 years in prison and then served as president of South Africa between 1994 and 1999. Mandela passed away in 2013.

But despite the facts, Broome seemed to remember international news coverage of Mandela’s death from the 1980s. She even found others who had almost identical memories of Mandela’s death in the twentieth century.

What causes the Mandela effect?

There are many potential causes of the Mandela effect. The first one is false memories. The concept of false memories is “untrue or distorted recollections of an event”. Some of these false memories contain elements of fact that closely resemble the actual event. Yet, most of them are entirely false.
Memory mistakes are quite common. Remember, memory does not work like a camera. Emotions and personal bias can influence memories.
To try and explain the memory mistake syndrome, researches have created a method of inducing false memories. Called Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) task paradigmTrusted Source, during it, participants read a list of semantically related words. For example, zebra, monkey, whale, snake, elephant.
After reading the list, researchers ask the participants whether or not they recall a lure word. That is another word related but not included in the list. For example, in this case, that would be lion. While the word is semantically related to the list, it is not on the list.
Some of the participants recognize the word and recall reading it. A study showed that false memories induced via the DRM task paradigm remain for as long as 60 days.
Confabulation is another potential mechanism why we have false memories. This mechanism can also explain the Mandela effect.

What is confabulation? It is false statements or retellings of events that lack relevant evidence of factual support. While they are technically false statements, the speaker will regard these statements as fact.
Confabulation is a common symptom of neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other that affect memory.
The last cause of the Mandela effect is priming. In psychology, priming describes a phenomenon in which exposure to a stimulus directly influences your response to a subsequent stimulus.
For example, when you read a word like grass, you instantly recognize another related word, say lawnmower or tree. It is quite similar to the DRM task we talked earlier.

Features and symptoms of the Mandela effect

As we said before, the Mandela effect occurs when a person believes that their distorted memories are in fact accurate reflection. Some of the features of this syndrome include:
– Having distorted memories in which some aspects are partially or entirely inaccurate
– Clearly remembering events that did not happen
– Unrelated people sharing similar distorted or inaccurate memory
And no, the Mandela effect does not involve lying or deception. The person actually believes in his own truth. Symptoms include remembering something as slightly different in wording or appearance.
A great way to describe the effect is the childhood game of telephone. During that game, we start with an initial statement. But until it is deliver to the final person, the message is slightly different because people heard or remembered it slightly differently. The same applies to your memory as well.

In popular culture

In 2019, the movie Mandela Effect was actually released. The plot is “a man becomes obsessed with facts and events that have been collectively misremembered by thousands of people. Believing the phenomena to be the symptom of something larger, his obsession eventually leads him to question reality itself”.
But as we said before, there are many more examples of the effect in popular culture.
For example, many people believe Darth Vader said “Luke, I am your father”. But in reality, he said, “No, I am your father”. This is one of the best examples of a famous line.
Another example is “Life is like a box of chocolates”. The common misquotation from the 1994 movie Forest Gump is wrong. The actual quote, said by Tom Hanks is, “My mother always said life was like a box of chocolates”.
The Mandela effect dates way back. In Casablanca, people remember Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick saying, “Play it again, Sam”. But in the Hollywood classic, Ingrid Bergman’s character Elsa says, “Play it, Sam”.

Here is another fun fact. The famous HBO show is not Sex in the City. Even though it is Sex and the City, some people think differently.

How to recognize false memories?

Can you do this? Well, there is no easy method for identifying false memories. You can try by sharing questionable memories with people who have witnessed the event or can verity details.
Or you can look it up from a reliable site or sites. But the problem is often people tend to confirm what another person believes to be true.
The good news is that most false memories related to the Mandela effect are harmless.

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Thomas B.