Deconstructing the Mandela Effect

Senjumbeni K Jami, Assistant Professor, Department of English.

The Mandela Effect refers to a phenomenon wherein a substantial number of individuals collectively misremember an image, event, person or other artefacts of popular culture, such as movies, books, or television. This phenomenon manifests when individuals firmly believe that their distorted memories accurately represent recollections. They tend to vividly recall events that transpired differently or events that never transpired at all.  “It occurs when many different people incorrectly remember the same thing, so essentially a collective false memory,” says Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Fiona Broome, a paranormal researcher, originated the term in 2010 when at a conference she discovered that she, along with several others believed that the former South African President Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s when the truth was that Mandela was alive at the time of the conference who would go on to pass away in 2013. Several people recollected having witnessed news coverage of his demise, along with a speech delivered by his widow which never occurred. Broome was taken aback by the noteworthy fact that a considerable number of individuals could collectively remember the same event with such precision, despite it never having occurred. The term "Mandela Effect" was coined upon her establishment of a website dedicated to meticulously documenting her observations of this phenomenon and other analogous occurrences.

The Mandela Effect does not entail deliberate falsehood or deception. Rather, it occurs when an individual or a collective group possesses distinct yet false memories. Memories do not always form a precise record of events. It is subject to change with time and every individual remembers events in different contexts. Ken Drinkwater, a researcher at Manchester Metropolitan, opines that the Mandela Effect might be connected to a condition called False Memory Syndrome. “In their identity and in the way they see the world, people are influenced by factually incorrect recollection. They could strongly believe in something or strongly believe that they’ve had this experience or this memory, but in fact, it is fantasy,” said Drinkwater.

Dagnall, a cognitive and parapsychological researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom quotes, “Very often when we’re processing information, we see things as we think they are, rather than they are. Attention is a very interesting phenomenon,” said Dagnall, who is a reader in applied cognitive psychology. With the Mandela Effect, people are often remembering things the way they think they should be rather than they are — because we just process things very quickly in everyday life.” Stating the example of the Deese, Roediger and McDermott task, a false memory test in which people receive lists of words on a keyword to recall, he recollects people recollecting words which were not on the list but were associated with the keyword. Therefore, he opines that people might be incorporating thematically analogous details into their recollections of an image.

Recollecting Nelson Mandela’s false death may have ignited the birth of the Mandela Effect but there are numerous other similar occurrences which stand at the forefront to validate the existence of the effect. Prominent of the lot include Pikachu’s tail which is falsely misremembered as having a black tip but in reality, the entire tail is yellow. Rich Uncle Pennybags, the mascot of the board game of Monopoly, is misremembered by most people as wearing a monocle which is far from the truth. The highly acclaimed “Looney Toons” by the Warner Brothers is actually ‘Looney Tunes.’ Hockey, a widely played sport in India is assumed as the National Sport of the country but it is astounding to know that the government has not officially declared hockey as the national sport because their objective is to provide equal acknowledgement and encouragement to all the sports played widely in India.

Researchers are yet to experience the eureka moment on what causes the Mandela Effect but several observations hint at the possible reasons which include- Confabulation, a neuropsychiatric disorder which enables a person’s brain to create erroneous memories without harbouring any intent to deceive but letting the individual to believe that the inaccurate memory is, in fact, accurate. Confabulation may fill up the information gap or create memories that never existed. Another assumed possibility, Priming,  is the malleability of human memory and how external influences can play a role in shaping our recollections, even if unintentionally. False memories or distorted recollections, the inaccurate contextualization of an event that transpired, lack of familiarity with linguistic principles, retention of incorrectly spelt words, and distortion of pre-existing memories may also contribute to the causes.

The internet plays a prime role in spreading misinformation and it is only a matter of time before that information gets ingrained in our minds as false memories which are shared with a collective whole. In this digital age where the usage of social media is skyrocketing, information both accurate and inaccurate spreads like wildfire which eventually creates misconceptions and false memories to gain traction. While the Mandela Effect does not pose an immediate threat to the extent of decoding it to bring about its doom, it does, to some extent, contribute to the creation of collective false memories, and such shared inaccuracies may overtime foster the development of societal and political narratives that can be potentially harmful in the long run.

The Mandela Effect stands as an intriguing and debatable subject that has garnered the attention of researchers and laymen alike and though plausible conjectures have been posited in the pursuit of elucidation, it is safe to assert that the phenomenon’s existence unveils a distinctive insight into the working of the human mind, marking it as a notable aspect of study.

The Degree of Thought Column is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. The column explored contemporary social, cultural, political, and educational issues and challenges around us. However, the views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC-accredited, UCG-recognized Commerce and Arts college. Currently, the Degree of Thought Column is managed by the department of Mass Communication, and the editorial team are Dr Jenny Lalmuanpuii, KC Gabriela and Rinsit Sareo. For feedback or comments, please