I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Misremembering isn’t just an affliction of the aging process. Lots of people are convinced they have seen something only to find out they are recalling an event that didn’t happen. The so-called Mandela Effect is an attempt to explain this phenomenon.
The Origin of the Mandela Effect
Paranormal researcher Fiona Broome called this phenomenon the Mandela Effect. She did so because in her memory South African activist and president Nelson Mandela had died in the 1980s. On her website she wrote in 2009, “I thought I remembered it clearly, complete with news clips of his funeral, the mourning in South Africa, some rioting in cities and the heartfelt speech by his widow.”
In fact, Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died in 2013.
It turned out that Ms. Broome wasn’t alone. Other people had reported similarly detailed memories of Mr. Mandela’s funeral late in the 20th century. On her website, mandelaeffect.com, Broome carries reports from many people who have shared her story about Nelson Mandela.
Other well known people, such as Billy Graham and Ernest Borgnine, have been given premature burials by folk who are convinced they saw the funerals long before they actually happened.
Examples of the Mandela Effect
Spend some time researching this topic and you come across numerous lists of examples of faulty memories centered on popular culture.
There’s a remarkable similarity to these lists. Could they be copying from one another? Nah! Surely, they would never do that. Maybe, they are all examples of the Mandela Effect. For what it’s worth, and it probably isn’t much, here are some of the oft-quoted examples:
- It’s Oscar Mayer hot dogs, yet vast numbers of people remember it as Oscar Meyer.
- There was never a product called “Jiffy” peanut butter. It was “Jif.”
- Monopoly’s Uncle Pennybags never wore a monocle, although Planter’s Mr. Peanut did.
- And, although trivia contests might be won or lost over the issue, Curious George never had a tail.
See? It wasn’t worth much was it? Here, are some more Earth-shattering revelations given as examples of the Mandela Effect.
Fiona Broome and others put forward the explanation that these are not false memories. The events actually happened as described, but in another universe.
Here’s Space.com, “The universe we live in may not be the only one out there. In fact, our universe could be just one of an infinite number of universes making up a ‘multiverse.’ ” Apparently, there are plenty of astrophysicists who think that hidden universes are a distinct possibility.
But, does that really explain why many people believe that Kit Kat has a hyphen in its name, an error that is frequently given as an example of the Mandela Effect? A hyphen in one universe and no hyphen in another? A Nobel Prize may hinge on a solution to this conundrum.
Some other theories about these memory coincidences involve the mischievous work of time travellers, witches, and Satan.
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Psychiatrists Diagnose the Mandela Effect
Let’s suppose we are not on the holodeck of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise so we can look for a more down-to-Earth explanation.
Here’s a thought. Could it be that the Mandela Effect is because people have faulty memories? It’s called confabulation and it’s time to look in on the Deese-Roediger-McDermott Paradigm.
In experiments, subjects are given a list of connected items, say, door, window, kitchen, and bathroom. When asked which words they recall hearing an amazingly high number will say “house” even though that word was never mentioned.
American psychology professor Jim Coan showed how shaky memories can be by telling family members childhood stories. One that never happened involved his brother getting lost in a shopping mall. Coan’s sibling remembered the event that didn’t occur and added detail. Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown that this kind of wobbly recollection happens in about 25 percent of people.
Soon after the catastrophic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and elsewhere more than 2,100 Americans were interviewed by university researchers. They were quizzed about their memories of who they were with and where they were when they got the news. The same people were questioned again at intervals of one year, three years, and ten years. In 40 percent of the cases their recollections changed.
Study author William Hirst, PhD, says the discrepancies are part of a time-splice error. As Justine Worland explains (Time Magazine), “. . . people remembered facts about their 9/11 experience, but they forgot how pieces fit together. In the survey, one man remembered being on the street when he heard news of the attack but was actually in his office. The man probably spent time in both places at some point that day, but his memory of the truth blurred with time.”
President George W. Bush misremembered learning about the disaster when he was at a Florida elementary school. On one occasion he told an interviewer “First of all, when we walked into the classroom, I had seen this plane fly into the first building. There was a TV set on.” But, he couldn’t have. There was no live coverage of the first plane crashing; film footage did not emerge until later.
President Donald Trump said in 2015 “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down, and I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”
That is a false memory of a different order; it’s called a lie. Trump picked Jersey City because it has a large Muslim population and his fictional account was intended to cast Islam in a bad light. However, Trump’s false narrative has been planted into the memories of those who support him and who want to think ill of Muslims. This is not the Mandela Effect at work, but the rambling of a mendacious nitwit.
- In August 1980, terrorists exploded a bomb at the Bologna Centrale train station, killing 85 people and wounding more than 200. The blast also damaged a large station clock freezing it at 10:25 a.m. The clock was quickly repaired and started ticking again. However, in 1996, the clock broke down and its hands were set to 10:25 to commemorate the victims. A group of psychologists questioned people and found that 92 percent of Bolognans believe the clock never worked again after the terror attack.
- Mondegreen is the name given to misheard and remembered lyrics: So, we get “While shepherds washed their socks by night,” or “I pledge a lesion to the flag.” There's an article about mondegreens here.
- Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine) never said “Play it again Sam” in the movie Casablanca. A similar line was spoken by Ingrid Bergen (Ilsa Lund), “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’ ” Later in the film, Bogart does say to Sam the pianist “Play it.”
- “The ‘Mandela Effect’ and How Your Mind Is Playing Tricks on You.” Neil Dagnall and Ken Drinkwater, The Conversation, February 12, 2018.
- “40 Mandela Effect Examples that Will Blow Your Mind.” Blake Bakkila, Good Housekeeping, August 6, 2019.
- “5 Reasons We May Live in a Multiverse.” Clara Moskowitz, Space.com, December 7, 2012.
- “The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) Task: A Simple Cognitive Paradigm to Investigate False Memories in the Laboratory.” Enmanuelle Pardilla-Delgado and Jessica D. Payne, Journal of Visualized Experiments, January 2017.
- “Why 40% of Americans Misremember Their 9/11 Experience.” Justin Worland, Time Magazine, March 11, 2015.
- “President Bush’s False ‘Flashbulb’ Memory of 9/11/01.” Daniel L. Greenberg, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2004.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Rupert Taylor
Millie Marcano on September 16, 2019:
You don't have to be a witch to understand that time and circumstance are cyclical. Einstein understood that time when applied to force of significant speed can actually cause a reversal. Something to do with Quantum theory. It is reasonable to assume that an alternative universe exist. In my alternative life I attended a huge university. I go back to it often along with my house with tall ceilings and chandelier's. Keep dreaming!!