Mandela Effect – Concept, Causes, Consequences and Examples

We explain what the Mandela effect is in collective memory and why it occurs. Also, examples from history and popular culture.

mandela effect
The Mandela effect creates fictional memories about books, movies, or even experiences.

What is the Mandela effect?

It is popularly known as the Mandela effect to a social phenomenon that installs in the collective memory memories or certainties of things that never happened, but that when they are validated both individually and collectively, they are taken for certain, thus being able to contradict the obvious reality.

It is named after the South African politician Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), thanks to the self-described American paranormal (i.e. pseudoscientist) scholar Fiona Broome who, when news of Mandela’s death was reported in 2013, claimed that he had actually died in the 1980s. The funny thing is that many people will say “remember” the “true” death of Mandela, against all objective evidence.

This is not the only case of the Mandela effect, and many times these fictitious memories give rise to conspiracy theories, misunderstandings or fake news. Broome herself in 2013 claimed that there was an international conspiracy that used Mandela as a symbol, and there were even those who claimed that it was clear evidence of the existence of parallel universes. All this, the result of (bad) collective memory, and the undeniable power of fiction.

Why does the Mandela effect happen?

The scientific explanation of the so-called Mandela effect has to do with the power of suggestion and group pressure, capable of inducing people to think in extravagant ways, but also with the nature of memory.

What we call “memories” are mental impressions more or less faithful to the truth. of what happened, that as time passes and the lived experience is further and further away, they become more foggy and imprecise, except those that we often count.

As anyone who has played “broken phone” knows (in which a message is sent through a wiretap and in the end turns out to be something completely different from the original), with each repetition of a story some of its characteristics are altered.

Thus, it is possible that memory is susceptible to this type of “rewriting”, especially when it comes to memories that are not very central to our subjective experience. The human brain cannot occupy itself in remembering absolutely everything we have experienced, and much of what we remember is based on the stories we have made of what we have lived, since remembering the story is easier and more feasible than reliving the experience. It is a matter of efficiency.

Thus, it is possible that many people remember things differently than they were, simply because they have told them that way over the years. If we add to this the pressure of belonging to the group and the suggestive power of the Internet, we can understand why the so-called Mandela effect occurs.

Examples of Mandela effect

Other known cases of the Mandela effect include the following:

  • When in 2016 Mother Teresa of Calcutta was canonized for the Catholic Church, many said they remembered how in 1990 she had already been canonized.
  • On The movie White House there is a famous scene between the pianist “Sam” (Dooley Wilson) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), whose most famous line is often cited as Play it again, Sam or “Play it again, Sam.” But that line is never uttered in the movie.
  • Many remember the iconic character from the board game Monopoly dress like a 19th century bourgeois, including a monocle; but the truth is that in none of his appearances does he present this type of one-eye lens.
  • On The movie The Empire Strikes Back of the saga Starwars, everyone remembers the famous phrase of the antagonist, Darth Vader: “Luke, I am your father”. However, in said peak scene, the evil Sith lord never utters his son’s name.
  • It is commonly attributed to Quixote, the famous novel by Cervantes, the quote “They bark, Sancho, signal that we ride” or some similar variant. But the truth is that this phrase never appears in either of the two volumes of Don Quixote.