The Mandela Effect

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?


2 thoughts on “The Mandela Effect

  1. swong

    I am so glad you added a video proving that it is “magic mirror” and not “mirror, mirror” or I would not have believed you! I honestly had no clue when Nelson Mandela died, but I definitely related to the rest of your examples. I also have so many memories that my parents have told me are not true. Even after I learned that we likely have many false memories, I still believe that I am right and my parents simply forgot. It seems so strange that the few memories I have from when I was young may not even be real, and it makes me question when my first real memory is. I remember learning that we begin to remember things at the age of three, but my first memory that has not been disproven was in third grade, when I was eight years old.

    It almost feels like every part of us is fighting against remembering what is real, but perhaps these constructed memories may be of more use to us than actual memories. I have no memory of being lost in a mall, but schemas could help me fill in smaller details on the smaller scale. I am not exactly sure how constructing an entire story could be of use, but perhaps it allows for us to better remember things we should avoid? I would be much more likely to avoid, say a mushroom, if I got sick from eating one than if someone told me they got sick.

  2. kware Post author


    When I read that article, I had to find a audio to prove that it really says, “magic mirror” instead of “mirror, mirror” or I wouldn’t have believed it either! Other follow up articles on the Mandela Effect say that it is caused by some conspiracy theories, but I don’t really believe in that. After we have learned what we learned in class, doesn’t it make you doubt the memories that you have? Like, what is even real any more?! Following up on what you said about remembering things that we need to avoid, I wonder how much of that has to do with survival and how much it has to do with memory? In other words, are we primed to remember certain things that are dangerous because of our ancestors? I think so, but I wonder how much of that is memory or primal instinct? What do you think?

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