Mandela Effect reveals the consequences of collective false memories

February 9, 2017 — by Katherine Zhou

The Mandela Effect was coined by blogger Fiona Broome in 2010 after she discovered that many people clearly believed that late South African activist and president Nelson Mandela died in prison, when in reality, he was still alive. Although this trend may seem silly at first impression, it has gained traction because many people have become distraught after having extremely clear memories about certain phenomena, only to find out that the reality is much different.

 
 

The Mandela Effect was coined by blogger Fiona Broome in 2010 after she discovered that many people clearly believed that late South African activist and president Nelson Mandela died in prison, when in reality, he was still alive.

The discovery of this and other “collective false memories” has led to the belief that, to different people, events happen in different time spans. These memories can be attributed to several causes, including the idea of alternate universes.

Although this trend may seem silly at first impression, it has gained traction because many people have become distraught after having extremely clear memories about certain phenomena, only to find out that the reality is much different.

In fact, after I watched a video by popular YouTuber Shane Dawson detailing this phenomena, I eagerly looked up a clip of Darth Vader’s famous line in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” Since I had watched the original trilogy several times in my childhood, I had thought of myself as an avid “Star Wars” fan. However, I was shocked when I listened closely to Vader say, “No, I am your father,” to a pained Luke Skywalker.

I was extremely confused, playing the clip over and over, as even in the title of the video, the line was, “LUKE, I am your father,” not “NO, I am your father.” The line, which has been famously but incorrectly quoted, is just one example of the Mandela Effect.

For example, NewStatesman reported that hundreds of people online claim to remember a movie called “Shazaam” that came out in the the ‘90s, starring comedian Sinbad, but the truth is that it never existed. One man even said he remembered it distinctly, as he owned a video rental store and had to rewind and watch the movie many times to make sure it would play correctly.

With new cases popping up on websites like Reddit, the Mandela Effect recently gained popularity in the media, with popular media organizations like VICE, BuzzFeed, Business Insider and The Telegraph detailing the Mandela Effect. The term went viral on YouTube when Dawson made his video, which currently has about 4 million views.

Other popular Mandela Effects include the misspellings of well-known items, such as how the children's book series “The Berenstain Bears” is remembered as the “The Berenstein Bears,” the cereal “Froot Loops” as “Fruit Loops,” fast food company “Chick-Fil-A” as “Chic-Fil-A” and the air freshener “Febreze” as “Febreeze.”

These effects further expand to include songs and famous quotes, such as Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” which actually ends without the line “… of the world,” contrary to popular memory. Even covers of the song include this line. Along with this, the famous line from “Forrest Gump” is actually “Life was like a box of chocolates,” not “Life is like a box of chocolates.”

This is further corroborated with “misprinted” rare memorabilia, such as a branded perfume labeled  with the name of TV show “Sex in the City,” while the actual show is titled “Sex and the City.”

After conducting a Facebook survey detailing these common misconceptions, I found that out of 68 Saratoga students, 44.1 percent of students claimed to be inclined to believe the Mandela Effect.

This trend has led to people going as far to claim every mistake or simple item that they remember differently, without any proof, is evidence of the Mandela Effect.

However, there are explanations against these beliefs. Dr. Henry Roediger, a professor at the Washington University Memory Lab, told NewStatesman, “Lots of people remember detailed, but utterly false, memories. In fact, we all have them.”

In fact, Roediger explains that this occurs almost like an infectious disease, as “one person’s memory can infect another.”

Besides the “misinformation effect,” the Mandela Effect can also be influenced by confirmation bias, misattribution of memory and cryptomnesia, where imagination is mistaken for memory. According to debunkingmandelaeffects.com, it can also be attributed to false memory, cognitive dissonance —  when people are resistant to evidence against their memory — or confabulation, which occurs when people fabricate details about the world in their memory.

Although at first I could believe that some of these “Mandela Effects” were true, or at least a strange coincidence, I realized that these “effects” can simply be understood as common misunderstandings that have been spread by one confused person to a large group.

Although I was originally shocked by this phenomena, upon further investigation, I realized that I don’t distinctly remember Darth Vader telling Luke, “Luke, I am your father.”

I probably couldn’t quote any movie that specifically, even one that I had watched many times. Even upon watching the clip again on YouTube, I could see how someone could mess up remembering Darth Vader’s words, with his slurred, incoherent speech.

Similarly, I have recalled memories from my childhood that never happened, simply because I misattributed my imagination for true memory. The human brain is very complex and can trick someone into thinking one way, while reality exists on its own. In the end, it seems people are making up phenomena like the Mandela Effect to try to explain confusions that are all too human.

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