Human memory is a complicated thing. We remember relatively little of what we experience on a day to day basis, largely because a lot of information we encounter is repetitive or irrelevant. Despite that, humans rely on their memory for everything from brushing our teeth (muscle memory) to following current events. We want our memory to provide us an accurate account of the past; it does so less often than we might like. For one, we forget information often. Beyond that, we can be made confident we remember false information. In a recent memory study, 76% of adults failed to recall information accurately.
Introducing the Mandela Effect
This is a problem at the individual level. What are we supposed to do when we realize we don’t remember something correctly? It is most likely we will ask another person. What are the chances everyone in a group remembers something the same wrong way? Higher than one might think. In 2009, paranormal expert Fiona Broome started a website to describe a strange phenomenon; despite Nelson Mandela assuming the South African presidency in 1994, a significant group of people still believed he had died in 1980. Today, the Mandela Effect is recognized as an umbrella term for any instance of a large group misremembering a specific detail or event.
How common is the Mandela Effect in everyday life? More common than most people would be comfortable with, that’s for sure. In popular culture alone, many people remember Rich Uncle Pennybags (the “Monopoly Man”) as wearing a monocle. The branded character has never been illustrated that way in an official capacity. Movies and TV shows are misquoted frequently, to the frustration of their fanbases. Perhaps the most famous example after Mandela himself is The Berenstain Bears. Named after author Mike Berenstain, readers around the world insist the correct spelling is “Berenstein.” Some go as far as saying they possess books with the misspelling in print.
Most of the examples above are innocent. It doesn’t harm anyone to remember the Monopoly Man as monocled. More concerning is the implication of the Mandela Effect. Large swaths of the population can be confident (and even combative) regarding their recollection of falsehoods. Recent studies suggest that up to 1 in 2 people may not be able to distinguish between false memories and real ones. In our modern era, the internet makes it very easy for misinformation to spread. Individuals with the right skills can create deepfakes that seem to be indistinguishable from real video footage. How is society supposed to function when different groups experience alternate versions of reality?
How can individuals avoid the Mandela Effect in their own life? As an emerging memory science, there is a lot about the Mandela Effect scientists still don’t understand. However, fact checking goes a long way. Endeavor to get news from a wide variety of sources, especially when details appear to be in contention. Be careful to avoid mob mentality, as the pressure of group conformity is one of the ways false memories spread.
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