Mandela Effect: When Many People Share A False Memory

This phenomenon occurs when many people remember with great confidence something that never happened.

Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013 due to the effects of a respiratory infection. The death of South Africa’s first black president and one of the leading icons in the fight against apartheid occurred at his home after a prolonged period of agony at the age of ninety-five, being picked up by most of the mainstream media. Communication.

However, there is a large number of people who were surprised by this fact, stating that they remember that the former South African president died in prison and even stating that they recall scenes from his funeral. This is not an isolated case, but on other occasions a similar phenomenon has been reported in which some people remember things that originally did not happen. Although there are numerous cases prior to the death of the South African president, this phenomenon has been called the Mandela effect.

The Mandela effect

The Mandela effect was named for Fiona Broome, a researcher and passionate about the paranormal, who would receive with great surprise the news of the death of Nelson Mandela. The reason for the surprise is that Broome vividly remembered his death and the aftermath of it, as well as his funeral, many years before the actual death. And not only her, but other people claimed to remember the same thing. Later the debate would move to the Internet, where many people would share similar experiences.

Thus, the Mandela effect refers to those situations in which multiple people seem to remember, in a similar or even identical way, phenomena that have not occurred or that do not coincide with the actual historical data. For these people their memory is real and true, as is the fact that in the present they are receiving information that contradicts said memory and this appears to be true.

Other examples of this effect

The memories regarding the death of Nelson Mandela are not the only ones in which the Mandela effect has appeared. Other historical phenomena have had the same effect.

Another case in which the Mandela effect has appeared can be found during the Tiananmen Square massacre that occurred in China in July 1989. On July 5, a Chinese citizen stood in front of a line of battle tanks, managing to block their path . This scene, which would be photographed and recorded and later broadcast in numerous media, would also cause surprise for many of those who lived through the events, who say they remember how the young man could not block the passage of the tanks but was run over by them, causing him the death.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was beatified, that is, turned into a saint, during 2016. This fact surprised many when they believed they remembered that this event occurred in 1990, seven years before her death.

Something similar happened with Mohamed Ali, who continued to live long after a large number of people assumed he was dead.

In fact, even far from high-impact historical events or real historical figures, similar phenomena have occurred. Similar cases can be found in film, music or theater. A very common example that can be found in most people can be seen in the Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back. In one of the most famous and replicated scenes, Darth Vader indicates to Luke Skywalker that he is his father with the well-known phrase “Luke, I am your father. However, in the original version of the film we can see that the real dialogue is “No, I am your father”, having substituted one text for another in the collective imagination.

Attempts to explain the effect

The attempt to explain this phenomenon has provoked a wide debate, arising several attempts at explanation from various theories and perspectives.

Some people have relied on the theory of multiple universes to try to explain the Mandela effect, proposing that the reason for it can be found in the overlapping of the timelines of different alternative realities. Thus, what happened in this reality would be combined with what happened in another, appearing in people’s memory an event that in our reality would not have happened yet or that under certain circumstances could have happened. 

In addition, some start from quantum theory to consider that this effect is due to the possible displacement of our consciousness through these alternate universes. When faced with the real fact of the current universe, confusion appears due to the dissociation between what is remembered and what is being reported, both memories being totally credible for the subject.

Within this trend, other people seem to consider that the Mandela effect is the product of the opening of portals between parallel universes due to collisions between particles that occur at CERN. Both perspectives are based only on speculation, and are rejected by the vast majority of researchers in psychology and neuroscience.

Another current of thought seems to indicate that the causes of the Mandela effect can be found in an attempt at mental control and manipulation by government agencies, introducing false information for uncertain purposes.

Finally, another explanation that some people offer is based on the fact that we live in a programmed reality, in which modifications occur from time to time that alter our internal programming and leave traces of our previous state.

Psychological explanation of the Mandela effect

Although the multiple theories in this regard may be of great interest, this phenomenon is explicable from psychology. Specifically, the origin of the Mandela effect can be found in a series of mental processes related to a malfunction or distortion of memory.

The presence of a Mandela effect is not indicative that the person is lying about what they remember. For this the memory is very real, existing memory as such. However, the origin of this effect can be found in the interference of other information or the creation of memory fragments with which the memory of the events is filled.

The reason for the generation of these memories can be found in that the memory is largely constructive, remembering the main elements that were part of a scene and then mentally reconstructing them when we need to recover the memory. From this, it is easy that the introduction of new elements a posteriori or the interference of other thoughts, memories or beliefs can cause a false memory.

Some of the mental phenomena that can explain the Mandela effect are the following. Although they can be present as symptoms of various medical or mental problems, it is not uncommon for them to appear in the non-clinical population. In other words, it does not have to be indicative of a mental disorder.

1. The conspiracy

One of the main elements that could explain the existence of the Mandela effect is collusion, the phenomenon by which human beings fill in the different gaps in our memory with manufactured memories, unconsciously. This problem can be observed among others in cases of amnesia and dementia, but its appearance in people without clinical problems is not strange. This type of conspiracy is also frequent in people who have suffered severe trauma, such as sexual abuse in childhood, sometimes generating false memories to protect the individual from psychic pain and suffering caused.

Thus, based on a real memory, the individual elaborates and creates different spaces and memory fragments. In most cases the generation of these fragments is not carried out with the intention of deceiving others, but rather the individual himself believes that his memory is such.

2. External induction of memories

The fact that multiple people agree on the same memory may be due to the fact that it is not impossible to induce a false memory in other people. In fact, it has been shown that hypnotic or suggestion-based processes can induce them with some ease. Through language and depending on what type of questions are asked about a specific situation, the person analyzed can change their internal perception of the events recalled, as demonstrated by the psychologist  Elizabeth Loftus.

That is why when hypnosis is used to recover memories, extreme precautions must be taken to avoid the generation of false memories. In fact, there is evidence that the use of hypnosis in cases of hysteria during the time of the Salpétriêre schools produced in some cases the false memory of having received abuse.

3. Cryptomnesia

Linked to the previous point we can find the phenomenon called  cryptomnesia, which allows a memory to be experienced as something lived for the first time due to the presence of confusion regarding its origin. Let us consider as our own an idea or information that we have read, seen or heard, so that we can identify as a memory something that has come to us through others by confusing the memory of what we have thought or perceived with the actual memory of the events.

With this, a person can identify the belief of another as their own elaboration, so that the expansion of the same idea is possible without it being considered as coming from others.

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