Have you ever heard of the Mandela effect? It's like a fascinating twist in the fabric of reality. Picture this: a bunch of people all remember something vividly, like a famous quote or a character's name, but it turns out they've all got it wrong! How can so many people collectively mess up their memories? Well, enter neuropsychologist Aaron Bonner-Jackson, PhD, who's got some intriguing insights into why our brains might be playing tricks on us.
Definition of the mandela effect
The Mandela Effect is when a big group of people remember something one way, but it's actually different. They might even think it's because of other dimensions or universes. Here are some things that can happen with the Mandela effect:
- People might remember whole events that never really took place
- They might remember someone in a situation that really happened but that person was never there
A. Origin of the term "mandela effect"
The term "Mandela Effect" was coined by Fiona Broome. She had this strong memory of Nelson Mandela, the former South African President, passing away in the 1980s while he actually lived until 2013. What's bizarre is that she found out many others also thought Mandela had died years before he did.
B. Early examples of the mandela effect
Nelson Mandela's remarkable story isn't the only example of this kind of shared false memory. It's a treasure trove of examples, often tied to pop culture or significant historical events. Remember Snow White's famous line, "Mirror, mirror on the wall"? Well, it's actually "Magic mirror on the wall."
Even the spelling of things can trick us. Some folks remember Oscar Mayer hot dogs as "Meyer" instead of "Mayer." And the Berenstain Bears? Many recall it as "Berenstein" with an "e."
A. Explanation of memory and cognitive processes involved
To understand why this happens, let's dive into how our brains handle memories. When we experience things or see stuff, our brains turn them into memories that we can recall later.
Dr. Bonner-Jackson explains that a part of our brain called the hippocampus helps create new memories. But here's the twist: memories aren't exact copies of what really happened. They can get mixed up by things like our biases, how we see things, what we expect, and what we think.
So, over time, your memories can change as you learn more about what actually occurred. For instance, if you and a friend remember a vacation differently, it's because you both paid attention to different stuff and saw things in your own way. Memories are like that – they can be a bit wobbly.
B. Psychological theories related to false memories
False memories can sneak in when we're given the wrong info or when our imagination runs wild. Sometimes, if someone keeps telling you something happened a certain way, even if it didn't, your brain can trick you into thinking it's true – we call this "memory implantation."
Research studies explain that even in court cases, the way a question is asked can make people believe they remember stuff that never really occurred. Our memories have gaps, and we tend to fill them in with what we hear and our own opinions. There was a study where people were given a list of related words, and they had to remember them. Even if a word like "sleep" wasn't on the list, about 40% of the time, people thought it was. Our brains can mix up the message and make us remember things wrong.1
In psychology, a false memory means you remember something as true, but it's either totally made up or very different from what really happened. It could be small stuff, like thinking a car was a different color, or big stuff, like making up entire events. These memories can come from suggestions or mix-ups in your thinking.
People like Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet started looking into this, and Elizabeth F. Lotus, an American psychologist, added a lot to the research. Basically, a false memory is either something you totally made up in your head or a twisted version of a real event. It's different from just forgetting because you believe the false memory is true. And it's not about forgetting something real; it's about remembering something that never even occurred.2
Causes of false memories
False memories can happen when new information messes with our memory of something. It's like when someone tells you a different version of a story, and it confuses what you remember.
This happens because our memory can be influenced by what others say or suggest to us. It's a bit like when a friend tells you that you did something you're sure you didn't do. Their suggestion can make you doubt your own memory.
So, this all makes us wonder how much we can trust our memories. It's like that game of telephone where the message changes as it gets passed along.
- Leading questions
Misleading information is when someone gives you the wrong details, usually after an event. This can happen when people ask tricky questions, like in police interviews, or when you talk about what happened with others later on.
For instance, imagine you witnessed something, and right after it happened, someone asks you, "Did you see the car crash into the tree?" This question suggests that a car did crash into a tree. But a better question would be, "Did you see anything happen near the tree?" That way, it doesn't lead you to a specific answer.
These leading questions can mess up our memory of what really occurred.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) might struggle with their memory or not trust their own memories. OCD is a condition where the brain responds strangely to serotonin, a chemical in the brain. It makes people have strong, irrational urges to do things or have repetitive, unwanted thoughts.
Because people with OCD don't trust their memories as much, they can end up making up false memories. These made-up memories can then make them do repetitive and compulsive behaviours. For instance, if they worry they left the door unlocked, they might keep checking it even if it's locked because they can't trust their memory of locking it.
- False memory syndrome
False memory syndrome means a person's identity and relationships are affected by memories that are wrong but they believe in them strongly. This might happen because of something called "recovered memory therapy." In this therapy, they use techniques like hypnosis, drugs, and guided imagery to try to help people remember things from their past that they had forgotten.
Imagine someone believing they were abducted by aliens because they had a vivid memory of it, even though it never really happened. That's kind of like what false memory syndrome is about.
- Sleep deprivation
Getting a good night's sleep is crucial for your brain to store memories properly. But if you don't get enough sleep, it can mess with your ability to remember things you've already learned. There was a study that investigated if not sleeping enough could make you remember things that never really happened. It turns out, sleep deprivation can indeed lead to false memories. However, if you have some caffeine before trying to remember stuff, it might help prevent this from happening
In simple terms, not sleeping well can mess with your memory, and sometimes, it can make you remember things that are completely made up. But caffeine could help stop that from occurring.3
Real world implications
Research shows that our memories aren't like perfect videos; they can get mixed up and changed. This can cause big problems, especially in legal cases.
For example, in the Ramona v. Isabella case, two therapists supposedly planted fake memories in their patient, Holly Ramona, saying she was abused by her father. Her dad, Gary Ramona, sued the therapists and won. The jury decided they caused him harm with these false allegations and awarded him $500,000.
In another case, Lyn Balfour was accused of causing her baby's death by leaving him in a hot car. However, it turned out that she had a false memory of taking her son to the babysitter, which she did as part of her routine. She was found not guilty of murder after a careful investigation.
These examples show how wrong memories can lead to serious consequences, even affecting people's lives in court.3
The Mandela Effect is when many people remember something incorrectly, like a famous quote or event. False memories can stem from various sources, including suggestion and misinformation. Leading questions and misleading information can distort memories, making people believe in things that didn't happen. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can lead to memory issues and false memories due to the brain's response to serotonin. False memory syndrome occurs when people strongly believe in memories that are factually incorrect. Sleep deprivation can lead to false memories, but caffeine might help counteract this effect. False memories can have significant real-world implications, impacting legal cases like Ramona v. Isabella. Understanding the fallibility of memory is crucial in various aspects of life, from everyday recollections to legal matters.
- Prasad D, Bainbridge WA. The visual mandela effect as evidence for shared and specific false memories across people. Psychol Sci [Internet]. 2022 Dec [cited 2023 Sep 15];33(12):1971–88. Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/09567976221108944
- Abadie M, Camos V. False memory at short and long term. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General [Internet]. 2019 Aug [cited 2023 Sep 15];148(8):1312–34. Available from: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-62913-001
- Mendez MF, Fras IA. The false memory syndrome: Experimental studies and comparison to confabulations. Med Hypotheses [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2023 Sep 8];76:492–6. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3143501/