Mandela Effect: What is it and why does it happen?

Large portions of a population can have inaccurate memories of the same event – what's going on here?
Interesting Engineering
Mona Lisa painting on an easel
Mona Lisa - was she smiling?

baona / iStock   

The monkey in the popular animated American series Curious George has been a subject of debate worldwide – many believe the monkey has a tail; however, it actually does not. 

Those who believed the monkey had a tail say they saw him with a dangling tail hanging from trees. Tails are distinctive characteristics of monkeys, so it is understandable why many people would have assumed this particular monkey did as well. 

This incident is an example of the Mandela Effect and proof that human memory can sometimes be fickle. 

According to Medical News Today, "Memories are not always precise recordings of events." Our memories can be influenced by time, context, and other people's opinions and memories. According to a study from the journal of Psychological Science, 76% of study participants made at least one error when asked to recall information from their memories.

What is the Mandela Effect? 

When numerous individuals have inaccurate memories of the same event, this is known as the Mandela effect. 

It is a phenomenon where a major portion of the populace misremembers an important event or has a recollection of an event that didn't actually happen. The Mandela Effect can be regarded as an instance of collective false memory.

Origins of the Mandela Effect

The term "Mandela Effect" was coined by Fiona Broome, an author and paranormal researcher.

In 2009, Broome shared a false memory at a conference of the tragic death in prison of the former South African president Nelson Mandela in the 1980s. 

Mandela Effect: What is it and why does it happen?
Nelson Mandela

Surprisingly, many other attendees also believed Nelson Mandela had died in prison, whereas he had not.

Some at the conference discussed seeing the news coverage of his death and even memories of his widow giving a speech about his death. 

This incident shocked Fiona Broome, who wondered why so many people, including her, could remember so many details of an event that never happened. Later, Broome started a website where she talked about her experience and similar instances of the Mandela Effect – explaining the phenomenon. 

Explanations for the Mandela Effect: Is it multiverse or neuroscience?

There have been several explanations relating to the Mandela Effect. While some, like Brome, attribute the occurrence to the multiverse theory of quantum mechanics, others believe it is related to neuroscience. 

Most Popular

According to Fiona Broome, her's and the other's experiences are accurate and occurred because they had lived in a parallel reality with a different timeline that accidentally collided with this current one. The theory of Many-Universes Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics holds that multiple worlds coexist at the same time and place as our own.

Neuropsychologist Aaron Bonner-Jackson of Cleveland Clinic claims the Mandela Effect may result from our brains fabricating false memories. He further explained that memories can be reconstructed, so our memories are not accurate representations of reality. 

Mandela Effect: What is it and why does it happen?
Neurons and Microglia

When we have problems recalling details or facts about an event, we might fill in the blanks with the information presented to us or based on our emotional or personal bias. As a result, memories can be influenced by preconceived notions, perceptions, expectations, or other people's opinions.

False information can also lead to false memories. This could be a common cause, especially now in the digital age where almost everyone uses the internet – as it is an effective tool for disseminating information rapidly. Sadly, it also has the potential to spread misconceptions and misleading information. As each person shares their own experience or recollection of an event, those false memories may influence others' memories, causing them to perceive the events similarly.

Another explanation for the Mandela Effect can be derived from the Deese-Roediger and McDermott (DRM) paradigm. Here, subjects were provided a list of closely related items such as bed, rest, and pillow. After a while, they were asked to recall these words, and it was discovered that the subjects falsely recollected closely related words that were not presented, like sleep. 

The "Lost in the Mall" experiment by researchers Elizabeth Loftus and Jim Coan was also used to explain the Mandela Effect. This experiment proved that it is possible to induce confabulation in people by asking leading questions or if fake memories are suggested to them by a figure of authority.

In the experiment, Jim Coan presented his family members with four short narratives about childhood events. He then asked them to recall the events as much as possible and write down the details. Unknown to the participants, one of the stories—which claimed that Coan's brother got lost in a mall when he was around 5 or 6 years old and was later saved by an older person and brought to the family—was untrue. 

Mandela Effect: What is it and why does it happen?
Fact of Fake?

At the end of the experiment, it was discovered that Coan's brother not only believed the event but also unknowingly wrote additional details to support the fake story. He also could not identify which of the narratives was false when he was told. 

This experiment was later applied to larger samples, and 25% of the subjects also failed to recognize the false event. The "Lost in the Mall" experiment demonstrated that there are situations when people cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imagined—which could explain the Mandela Effect.

Examples of the Mandela Effect

There are several popular examples of the Mandela Effect. Let's examine a few:

Looney Tunes:

People often think "Looney Tunes," the Warner Brothers animated series, is called Looney Toons.

Febreze:

The air freshener brand is spelt “Febreze” and not “Febreeze.”

Berenstein Bears vs. Berenstain Bears:

This famous children's book series is actually spelled "Berenstain Bears" with an "a."

Monopoly Man and His Monocle:

Contrary to popular belief, the character on the Monopoly board game doesn't wear a monocle. Unfortunately, the monocle has even been included in Halloween costumes featuring this character, further spreading this misconception.

Pikachu's Tail:

Many people claim to recall the Pokémon character Pikachu as having a tail with a black tip, which is untrue. Pikachu always had a distinct yellow tail. 

Mandela Effect: What is it and why does it happen?
Pokemon's Pikachu

"Luke, I'm your father":

Many people quote the famous line in the film "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" – "Luke, I'm your father," whereas James Earl Jones said, "No, I am your father."

Turkey Leg of King Henry VIII:

Many vividly recall a painting of the king of England holding or eating a turkey leg. However, such a painting doesn't exist.

Mona Lisa Portrait:

Many people believed Mona Lisa has a more obvious smile in the Mona Lisa Portrait.

Sinbad's Shazam:

Some people recalled that Sinbad acted in a movie titled "Shazam" as a genie in the 1990s. However, he never made such a movie.

If you're intrigued to learn more, here is a more extensive list we had previously put together for you.