Without Googling it, when did Nelson Mandela die? Some people may say that he died while he was a prisoner in the 80s. Others may not even know he was dead. He actually passed away in 2013, long after his prison release in 1990. I came across an article called “The Mandela Effect” which really caught my eye because it was strange to hear of something called the Mandela Effect. Upon reading the article, I was surprised to discover that I have been very guilty of experiencing the Mandela Effect.
The Mandela Effect is a phenomenon in which one is so convinced about a particular event (thing, memory), that they have false recollections of that event, even when that event is completely false. In other words, it’s remembering something as one way, but discovering that it has been remembered all wrong. This is what happened to the thousands of people who reported seeing Nelson Mandela’s funeral on T.V.—way before he actually passed away. Another example of the Mandela Effect is the phrase in Snow White: mirror, mirror on the wall. Did you know that the actual phrase is, magic mirror on the wall? Yet, people falsely remember and claim that the phrase is, mirror, mirror on the wall. I sure did! I had to look this up and hear it for myself because all these years I’ve been thinking the same thing. But, it’s true! It is “magic mirror on the wall.” Hear for yourself:
So, what’s the psychology behind it? The Mandela Effect is explained through false memories. As we’ve learned, false memories are mistaken beliefs about a past event. These beliefs may have not even occurred or the existing memory may have been distorted. The Deese-Roediger and McDermott paradigm demonstrates how people can falsely recognize related words. Participants were given words that were closely related such as “bed”, “tired”, and “rest” and when asked to recognize the words that previously appeared, participants falsely recalled words that were related to the ones previously presented, but where not actually presented.
It is quite fascinating seeing how people can produce false memories. It makes me suspicious of my own memories—especially memories of my childhood. I wonder how much of my childhood memories are real and how much I have misinterpreted. I remember of a time when I got in trouble for stealing $1 from my mom’s purse. My mom tells me this never happened, but I can swear that it did. I even remember me going in her purse and contemplating between stealing her Tick Tacks or the $1 bill. The Lost in the Mall Study by Loftus and Coan also demonstrates how people can make up memories that never happened. As we know, participants of this study were able to be convinced that they were lost in a mall as children. They were presented with false evidence that made them believe this really happened. Similar studies have also demonstrated a similar effect. Participants are primed to falsely recall events from their childhood that never happened. Isn’t this fascinating?
Most of these false memories can also be explained through schema driven errors. Schemas give us an inference about things and help us fill in things that are not present in a story. This can be very useful when trying to infer facts in a story. However, schema driven errors can have negative effects on memory. Intrusion errors add details that fit your schema that weren’t necessarily in the story.
Can you see how memory errors can contribute to the Mandela Effect and false memories, in general? I wonder if what we know about how false memories are created have been used to trick people into confessing crimes they never committed?