The Mandela Effect- What is It?

The Mandela Effect- What is It?

The Mandela Effect refers to a situation in which a large mass of people believes that an event occurred when it did not. Looking at the origin of the Mandela effect, some famous examples, as well as some potential explanations for this strange confluence of perceptions can help to shed light on this unique phenomenon.

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.

The term “Mandela Effect” was first coined by paranormal researcher Fiona Broome in 2009. It was then when Broom started a website which deals with her observations of this phenomenon. The idea behind the name and the entire concept of the Mandela Effect occurred to Broome when she was at a conference discussing how she remembered the sad passing of the former South African political leader and anti-Apartheid revolutionary during his political imprisonment in the 1980s.

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.

The Mandela Effect
Nelson Mandela with his wife, Winnie Mandela, after his release from prison, Cape Town, South Africa, 11 February 1990 (AP Photo/Greg English)

The Mandela Effect is similar to the psychological concept of confabulation, involving various forms of memory falsification. However, believers in the Mandela Effect, sometimes citing quantum mechanics, think a shared false memory is evidence of parallel universes that have intersected or slid into each other, such that those who remember Mandela’s death in the 1980s are simply remembering events that occurred on a timeline in another reality.

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.

Theories About The Mandela Effect

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.

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 demonstrate 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”.

In psychology, false memory is a phenomenon where a person recalls something that did not happen or recall it differently from the way it actually happened. Suggestibility, activation of associated information, the incorporation of misinformation and source misattribution have been suggested to be several mechanisms underlying a variety of types of false memory phenomena.

False memories are a component of false memory syndrome (FMS). The false memory phenomenon was initially investigated by psychological pioneers Pierre Janet and Sigmund Freud. In 1974, Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer conducted a study to investigate the effects of language on the development of false memory. The experiment involved two separate studies.

Elizabeth Loftus
Elizabeth Loftus is an American cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory. She has conducted research on the malleability of human memory.
John Palmer
John Palmer graduated from Duke University with a B.A. in psychology and received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.

In the first test, 45 participants were randomly assigned to watch different videos of a car accident, in which separate videos had shown collisions at 20 mph (32 km/h), 30 mph (48 km/h) and 40 mph (64 km/h). Afterwards, participants filled out a survey. The survey asked the question, “About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”

The question always asked the same thing, except the verb used to describe the collision varied. Rather than “smashed”, other verbs used included “bumped”, “collided”, “hit”, or “contacted”. Participants estimated collisions of all speeds to average between 35 mph (56 km/h) to just below 40 mph (64 km/h).

If actual speed was the main factor in estimate, it could be assumed that participants would have lower estimates for lower speed collisions. Instead, the word being used to describe the collision seemed to better predict the estimate in speed rather than the speed itself.

The second experiment also showed participants videos of a car accident, but the phrasing of the follow-up questionnaire was critical in participant responses. 150 participants were randomly assigned to three conditions. Those in the first condition were asked the same question as the first study using the verb “smashed”.

The second group was asked the same question as to the first study, replacing “smashed” with “hit”. The final group was not asked about the speed of the crashed cars. The researchers then asked the participants if they had seen any broken glass, knowing that there was no broken glass in the video. The responses to this question had shown that the difference between whether the broken glass was recalled or not heavily depended on the verb used. A larger sum of participants in the “smashed” group declared that there was broken glass.

The Mandela Effect
classic study demonstrating how the language used to aska question can influence eyewitness memory
  • In this study, the first point brought up in discussion is that the words used to phrase a question can heavily influence the response given.
  • Second, the study indicates that the phrasing of a question can give expectations to previously ignored details, and therefore, a misconstruction of our memory recall. This indication supports false memory as an existing phenomenon.

When it comes to the Mandela Effect, many examples are attributable to so-called “schema driven errors”. Schemas are organised “packets” of knowledge that direct memory. In this way, schemas facilitate understanding of the material, but can produce distortion.
Another way to describe the Mandela effect is “collective false memories.” A large group of people collectively always say a particular saying or memory a certain way when, in reality, the truth is different from memory.

Conspiracy theorists believe the Mandela effect is an example of alternate universes present in society. However, doctors have a much different explanation of memory, and how some memories, although vivid, can be false.

With apologies to conspiracy theorists, the idea of shared false memory isn’t proof of alternate realities. It’s simply a product of how our brain works to retrieve information. “What we know about false memory is that it arises through the reconstruction process,” Gene Brewer, Ph.D., an associate professor in cognitive psychology at Arizona State University, tells Mental Floss. “When you recall an event, you use memories around it, taking elements or pieces of other events and fitting them where they make sense.”

In the case of Mandela, the possible event which causes this memory distortion was the death of Steve Biko, who was another famous anti-apartheid activist from South Africa, which did occur in the 1980s.

While in most cases, the events and subjects which are affected by the Mandela Effect are more of fun facts and do not have the significance to impact the course of history. But in case, the effect is able to overtake an event which is important enough for human history. It may cause serious panic among the people who are struggling with finding the truth.

In the latest decades, the Internet has played a large role in spreading misconceptions and creating false memories. Many people have formed their online communities and social groups with others sharing their beliefs in the common falsehood, which can have an even more negative effect on their views of the actual facts.

NOTE

This is not meant to be a formal definition of Mandela Effect like most terms we define on matrixdisclosure.com but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Mandela Effect that will help our readers to expand their word mastery.

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