The Mandela Effect
Author: Abtin Zaker
The Mandela effect refers to a situation in which a large group of people believe that an event occurred when it did not . There are many famous examples of the Mandela effect in popular culture, and there are some potential explanations for this phenomenon .
The “Mandela effect” was first coined by Fiona Broome in 2009 when she wrote her observation about this phenomenon on a website . Broome was at a conference, talking with other people about how she remembered Nelson Mandela’s death in the 1980s, while he was serving a life sentence in prison for attempting to overthrow the apartheid state in South Africa . However, Nelson Mandela did not die in prison; he died in 2013 . As Broome began talking about her memories with others at the conference, she noted that she was not alone. Surprisingly, many remembered seeing news coverage of Mandela’s death as well as a speech by his widow . There are several examples of the Mandela effect in our everyday lives. For instance, it is often believed that the Warner Brothers’ cartoon logo is spelled “Looney Toons”, when in actuality, the correct form has been “Looney Tunes” all along . Another one of these examples is the Jif’s logo which is a popular peanut butter company. Many people remembered the brand’s logo as “Jiffy.”
There are several potential causes of the Mandela effect:
False memories are distorted reminiscences of an event . Some closely resemble the event in question, but others may ultimately be false . False memories are quite common based on the fact that our brain is not a camera; it is not objective, therefore, personal biases and emotions can contort the memory in question . Researchers have used the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) task paradigm to induce a false memory . In this task, the participants read a list of semantically related words such as: nurse, hospital, ambulance, paramedic, and surgery . After reading the list, they are asked whether or not they remember reading a “lure word,” which is a word that was not included on the list . A lure word in the above example might be “doctor” . Usually, the participants recognize the word even though it was never on the list .
According to the authors of the article “The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) Task: A Simple Cognitive Paradigm to Investigate False Memories in the Laboratory,” individuals remember false memories induced by the DRM task as long as 60 days .
Confabulations are false statements or recounting of events without factual support or relevant evidence . Professor Bortolotti stated in the article “Stranger than Fiction: Costs and Benefits of Everyday Confabulation” that most individuals “are unaware of the information that would make their explanations accurate” and thus, are not able to provide better explanations [4,5].
In psychology, priming describes a phenomenon in which exposure to a stimulus directly influences an individual’s response to a subsequent stimulus . It is also known as suggestibility . An individual’s reactions and memories can be swayed with priming . For example, the phrase, “did you grab the red ball from the shelf?” is much more suggestive than the phrase, “did you take anything from the shelf?” . The first phrase has a much more powerful influence on memory than the second phrase because it describes a specific subject, the “red ball” .
Some features of the Mandela effect include: Partially or entirely inaccurate distorted memories, remembering entire events that did not happen, and several people sharing the same inaccurate memories, among others [2,3]. However, it should be noted that lying and deception are not part of the Mandela effect; instead, it occurs when an individual or a group of individuals have clear but false memories [2,5]. The distortion, inaccurate narration, or false memories of a story happens when a memory is “pulled” from the brain, but infrequent recalls of said story causes one to place the memory back together in a subtle, yet different, way .
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