Mandela effect theories

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What Is It, how It works, and more

The Mandela effect is a type of false memory that occurs when many different people incorrectly remember the same thing. It refers to a widespread false memory that Nelson Mandela, South African human rights activist and eventual president, died in prison in the 1980s.

Memories are not always precise recordings of events. They can change with time, and a person may have different memories in different contexts. Memory is also highly suggestible, which means that other people’s opinions and memories may influence what a person remembers.

Thus widespread incorrect information can subtly influence individual memories, giving rise to conspiracy theories and harmful false beliefs. Incorrect beliefs about the death of Nelson Mandela are just one example of the Mandela effect.

Read on to learn more about the Mandela effect, including some examples and possible causes.

The Mandela effect is when a group of people misremembers a historical event or person.

Writer and researcher Fiona Broome coined the term over a decade ago when she created a website detailing her recollections of former South African President Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s.

Nelson Mandela did not die in prison in the 1980s. After serving 27 years in prison, Mandela became president of South Africa from 1994–1999. He died in 2013.

Despite this, Broome thought she remembered international news coverage of Mandela’s death in the 1980s. She found other people who shared these false memories.

Memory is highly malleable. Input from other people can change memories, causing people to misremember events or remember events that never happened. Some potential causes of the Mandela effect include:

False memories

False memories are untrue or distorted recollections of an event. Some false memories contain elements of fact, closely resembling the actual event in question. However, others are entirely false.

Memory is very suggestible. This means that information from another person, a person’s desire to believe something different, or false information online can influence memory.

People can believe a wide variety of false things. For example, scientists have been able to falsely induce memories of committing a crime. In one study, people could not distinguish false from real memories.

Researchers have even discovered a simple method of inducing false memories, called the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) task paradigm. During the DRM task paradigm, participants read a list of related words, such as:

  • zebra
  • monkey
  • whale
  • snake
  • elephant

After reading the list, researchers will ask the participants whether or not they recall a “lure word,” which is a related word that is not on the list.

Usually, the participants will recognize the lure word and recall reading it, even though it was never on the list.


Confabulations are false memories a person spontaneously generates, often to compensate for holes in a person’s memory.

For example, a person who does not recall what happened to Nelson Mandela might conclude that he died a long time ago, then report remembering this “fact.” The person is not lying. They truly believe the false memory.

Confabulation is a common symptom of neurological conditions that affect memory, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. When a person with dementia confabulates, they are not lying or attempting to deceive. They simply do not have the necessary information or awareness to recall a specific memory or event accurately.


In psychology, priming describes a phenomenon in which exposure to a stimulus directly influences a person’s response to a subsequent stimulus. For example, if a person reads or hears the word “grass,” they will recognize another related word, such as “tree” or “lawnmower,” more quickly than an unrelated word.

Priming uses suggestive techniques to trigger a certain response. For instance, “Did you grab the red ball from the shelf?” is much more suggestive than the phrase, “Did you take anything from the shelf?”

This is because the second phrase contains a general, open-ended question, while the first describes the action of grabbing a specific object: “the” red ball. Therefore, the first phrase has a stronger influence on memory than the second.

Alternate realities or parallel universes

Broome describes the Mandela effect as a clear memory of an event that never occurred in this reality. Her explanation ties into several popular theories that suggest that the Mandela effect occurs when our reality interacts with other alternate realities or parallel universes. While these explanations draw upon real theories in physics, they lack scientific support.

For example, some people argue that the Mandela effect provides evidence for multiple universes. Some physicists, drawing on theories such as string theory, argue that there are infinite possible universes.

Scientists have not tested the claim that the Mandela effect provides evidence for multiple universes. Evidence from memory research suggests that other theories of false memory might better explain the phenomenon.

While mathematical modeling supports string theory and the notion of multiple universes, both remain controversial.

The concept of the Mandela effect continues to gain popular support on blogs. Some of these blogs argue the Mandela effect is evidence of multiple universes. Others use the Mandela effect to promote false claims and spread conspiracies.

The internet is a potent tool for spreading false memories and beliefs. Drawing upon the basic principles of memories, some websites may be able to convince people to believe things that never happened by using tactics such as:

  • priming
  • combining false information with true information
  • repeating a false claim so often that it begins to seem true
  • spreading fake news stories to support a false claim

Features of the Mandela effect can include:

  • having distorted memories in which some aspects are partially or entirely inaccurate
  • clearly remembering entire events that did not happen
  • several unrelated people sharing similar distorted or inaccurate memories

The Mandela effect occurs when a person believes that their distorted memories are, in fact, accurate recollections. They can clearly remember events that happened differently or events that never occurred at all.

The Mandela effect does not involve lying or deception. Instead, it occurs when a person or group has clear but false memories.

This section includes a few famous examples of the Mandela effect.

‘Luke, I am your father’

Many people misquote James Earl Jones’s famous line from the 1980 film “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back.”

Instead of “Luke, I am your father,” Darth Vader actually says, “No, I am your father.”

Berenstein Bears

Many fans of the popular children’s series, “The Berenstain Bears,” report remembering the bears’ family name as “Berenstein,” after the authors.

In reality, both the bears and the authors were named Berenstain.

Monopoly monocle

What did the Monopoly Man look like in the game Monopoly? Many people assert he had a monocle and cane.

In fact, he did not have a monocle. This provides evidence for a visual Mandela effect.

‘Play it again, Sam’

In “Casablanca,” another Hollywood classic, people remember Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick saying, “Play it again, Sam.” Some people say they can even “hear” his voice saying those words.

However, it is Ingrid Bergman’s character Elsa who says, “Play it, Sam.”

Sinbad’s Shazam

Some people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s report a movie called “Shazam,” in which Sinbad played a genie or other magical character fulfilling a child’s wishes.

Sinbad never made such a movie.

One of the challenges of false memories is that they present similarly to real memories. A person may be very confident in the memory and spontaneously generate details to support it. Without external evidence of the memory’s falseness, there may be no evidence that it is not true.

A 2020 paper supports this claim, finding that people are no better than chance at detecting false memories.

A person can improve their chances of detecting false memories by:

  • consulting reliable sources such as encyclopedias, mainstream news sites, or peer-reviewed journals
  • considering whether they may have a memory because someone else has that memory
  • seeking independent evidence to support memories that seem suspicious or potentially harmful

The Mandela effect refers to widespread false memories that large numbers of people or a group of individuals believe. They may be harmless but can also support conspiracy theories or political agendas.

Memory is not a perfect recording of events that happened. It can change with time, and with practice and priming. If a person’s only source of evidence that something happened is from their own memory, it is possible that it did not happen.

Independent verification of memories, especially those with important social or political consequences, can slow the spread of misinformation and conspiracies.

The Mandela effect: a false collective memory

There are many ways to spread fake facts. One of them was called the "Mandela effect", the essence of which is as follows: a mass of people begin to believe in an event that, in fact, did not exist, or it happened, but in a completely different way. The causes of this phenomenon are still being investigated: there are both psychological and mystical explanations. Social networks have only accelerated the spread of false facts, and the lack of the ability to critically perceive information amplifies this effect.

T&D talk about the most famous mass delusions in history and explain why the Mandela effect occurs.

What is the Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is the coincidence of memories in a group of people that contradict the real facts. This phenomenon became known in 2013, when after the death of South African political leader Nelson Mandela, masses of people began to claim that he died in prison in the 80s of the 20th century, and some even remember the broadcast of his funeral on television. In fact, the politician was released in 1990 and he died in 2013. Then the term "Mandela effect" was introduced, it still does not have a single scientific explanation.

The "Mandela Effect" is erroneous memories of events that did not happen, while people feel strong experiences and can reproduce all the details

Unconscious recall of distorted memories is called confabulation - and this concept should not be confused with the Mandela effect. It is not necessarily associated with collective memories and can only occur in one person. “As a rule, all memories are reconstructed. So it all depends on what they are made of - truth, fiction or a mixture, ”, says psychology professor Marianne Harry from the University of Victoria.

In the classical sense introduced into psychiatry in 1866 by K.L. Kalbaum, confabulation is one of the types of paramnesia. A person reports fictitious events that did not happen. In psychiatry, this is a memory disorder that can progress to amnesia.

Clinical psychologist John Paul Garrison noted the following: “Some memories come spontaneously when we read the news. And it may seem to us when we perceive certain information that we have always owned it. This is one of the ways fake news is generated involuntarily. Therefore, it becomes necessary to check not only the information that comes to us, but also what information we distribute.

British psychologist, first professor of experimental psychology at the University of Cambridge Frederick Bartlett described the process of forgetting and replacing memories in his 1932 book Reminiscences. Barlett read the Canadian folk tale "The War of the Ghosts" to the participants. He found that listeners omitted unfamiliar details and distorted information to make it more understandable. This process is called "effort after meaning". In other words, people tend to speculate and brighten up stories.

Why it happens

The “broken phone” theory

According to one popular version, the main reason for the Mandela Effect is the tendency of people to involuntarily create fake facts. People tend to convey information in a distorted form - to exaggerate, invent, embellish in order to make their story more effective. Soon they forget about this lie or begin to believe in it themselves. Here the power of self-hypnosis is of particular importance.

Theory of movement in parallel worlds

This is a fantasy theory in which there are parallel realities that overlap. Thus, events occur at the same time, due to which the phenomena are distorted. When these realities collide, there is a failure.

Tendency to manipulate

The Mandela effect affects those who do not have developed critical thinking and who are not used to double-checking information. Such people are much easier to manipulate and create a false picture of the world.

Influence of the Internet

In the digital environment, the Mandela effect only intensifies. Misconceptions are gaining momentum at an incredible rate. People even create communities based on fake facts. For example, simulations of Princess Diana's 1997 car crash are often mistaken for real footage. Thus, most of the Mandela effects are due to memory errors and social misinformation. The fact that many inaccuracies are trivial suggests that they are the result of selective attention or erroneous inference.

A study of more than 100,000 news items discussed on Twitter showed that hoaxes and rumors beat the truth by about 70% every time. Moreover, the lies were spread not by bots, but by real people. This notion of the speed with which fake facts are circulating on the Internet may help explain the Mandela effect.

For example, Sinbad did act in other films in the 1990s and appeared on the poster for The Guest (it looked like a genie, which would explain the association with Shazam). Sinbad also dressed up as a genie for an event he held at 1990s. When one person mentioned this Shazam movie (probably on the Internet), it changed the memories of other people who were trying to remember the films that Sinbad made in the 1990s. Online communities spread this information until it became "truth".

This explanation confirms that remembering something again strengthens your confidence in your memory .

The dissemination and consumption of fake information can harm both the individual and the whole society. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop critical thinking - it allows you to be skeptical about the information you consume and form a clearer picture of the world.

Asya Kazantseva, author of the bestselling book “Someone Is Wrong on the Internet”, Corpus, 2016

“There is an awful lot of information in the world, and every year it not only becomes more, but its volume itself begins to increase faster… Actually In fact, the only skill that makes sense to rely on in such a situation is the ability to use search engines, find the information you need and distinguish between authoritative sources and low-quality ones. The less developed the skill of double-checking information and understanding, the more a person is inclined to take on faith those concepts that he accidentally came across somewhere, which is actively used by charlatans of all stripes.

Lyubov Karas




Photo: Gareth Davies / Getty Images

In recent decades, there have been many phenomena associated with a distorted perception of information. One of them is the Mandela effect. We tell you what it is, how it manifests itself and whether it is possible to resist it

What is the Mandela effect

The Mandela effect is when a large number of people believe that some event has happened, although in reality this did not happen. The term was coined by researcher Fiona Broome in 2009. She went to a conference where she talked with different people. One of the conversations turned to Nelson Mandela, a South African human rights activist who was jailed by the apartheid regime. Released after 27 years in prison, he became President of South Africa. Nevertheless, both Broome herself and her interlocutors were sure that Mandela died in prison at 1980s. It even seemed to many that they had seen his wife's speech at the funeral on the news. In fact, Nelson Mandela died in 2013 surrounded by his family.

What the Mandela Effect is: Examples

There are many examples of the Mandela effect, some country-specific.

"Luke, I am your father"

Remember how Darth Vader says this phrase in the Star Wars movie. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back"? Now, that's not true. The villain does not address his son by his first name. Responding to his remark "you killed my father", he says: "No, I am your father."

“I'm tired, I'm leaving”

On December 31, 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin recorded a New Year's address to the nation, in which he announced that he was leaving his post and appointing Vladimir Putin as acting president. It seemed to many that his last words were the phrase "I'm tired, I'm leaving." This is not true. In fact, he says the following: “I'm leaving. I did everything I could". According to Lyudmila Starostova, Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, an employee of the Museum of the First President of Russia, the reason is simple: “It seemed to many that the president looked tired during his televised address.”

Mr. Monopoly's monocle

Remember the cover of the popular Monopoly game series. It depicts a capitalist with a mustache, a cane and a top hat that looks like it's straight out of a Soviet caricature. Does he wear a monocle? If you answered “yes”, then you have fallen for the Mandela effect. In fact, the mascot of the game, whose name is Mr. Monopoly, has excellent eyesight.


The name of this bar is written together, not hyphenated. And both in Russian and in English. Many argue that this way of writing is an innovation, but in fact this is the only correct option.

New Zealand

Where is this island nation located? Many are sure that it is located in the Pacific Ocean northeast or even north of Australia, although the correct option is southeast of this country.

Henry VIII with a turkey

Many believe that there is a portrait of the English king Henry VIII, in which he bites into the shin of a turkey. Such a picture never existed, but the effect could be spurred by cartoons that played up a similar image.

Why the Mandela effect occurs

There are many theories that explain the emergence of collective false memories.

Parallel universes

One of the most unusual explanations for the Mandela effect comes from the hypothesis that there are many parallel universes that interact with each other. Hypothetically, people can move from one reality to another. This causes them to retain memories from different universes.

For example, in universe #A12, Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s, and in universe #B34, he died at home in 2013. At the same time, people who lived in A12 and are now in B34 will stick to the version that happened to them in A12. Because of this, they will have memories that will be considered false in B34. Sounds like something from the realm of science fiction, and so far it is - scientists have not found evidence for the existence of the multiverse.

False memories

Daniel Schacter, psychologist and professor at Harvard University, emphasizes: “Memories are psychological combinations of emotional reactions, visual and auditory perception. They only reflect our attitude towards what happened and are not reliable records of what happened.

When blank spots form in memories because the brain does not have all the information about the event, it independently thinks up the missing fragments based on associations and experience. This process is known as confabulation. “People don’t like uncertainty because it creates fear and stress,” says Christopher Dwyer, a psychologist and lecturer at Shannon University of Technology in Ireland.

The influence of the Internet

The Mandela effect has become known in the digital age, when computers and the Internet have become part of everyday life. Spreading information has become much easier, which has increased the popularity of various false concepts. Scientists analyzed the discussions under 100 thousand news on Twitter and came to the following conclusion: fakes and rumors defeat the truth in 70% of cases. Such information chaos can contribute to the strengthening of the Mandela effect.

What to do when the Mandela effect occurs

It is extremely difficult to recognize a false memory in oneself. The fact that it appeared, it will be possible to find out only after the fact. The only possible way to protect yourself from its occurrence is to always double-check any facts, and especially those that seem suspicious, and think critically - to doubt the incoming information and your beliefs.

And if you decide to check the truth of your memories with the help of another person, pay attention to how you formulate the question.

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