Nobody’s memory is perfect. Blame lack of sleep, multitasking, information overload… The causes of incomplete or incorrect recollection are many. But even without these distractions, we would all — and regularly do — still mix up life’s details. For instance, do you have fond memories of making Stouffer’s Stove Top Stuffing for Thanksgiving? Or reading that children’s book series about Curious George and his long curly tail? Of course, you do. But here’s the thing: Neither of these existed — at least, not in the way you remember them.
Stouffer’s never actually made stovetop stuffing, and Curious George didn’t have a tail. If you’re surprised by this, you’re not alone. A 2020 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that nearly 80 percent of adults made at least one detectable error when asked to recall information. The researchers noted that human memory is fallible, despite the fact that the study’s subjects had very high memory accuracy. The truth is that things that never happened and events that get muddled over time often become real to us. This is the foundation of the “Mandela Effect.”
What is the Mandela Effect?
The Mandela Effect is when a large group of people believes something that didn’t happen, did happen. These people will insist they remember a specific experience, incident, or detail, even when it’s demonstrably incorrect.
Why is it called the Mandela Effect?
The term “Mandela Effect” was coined in 2009 by paranormal researcher Fiona Broome when she put together a webpage to detail her observance of the phenomenon. While at a conference, Broome spoke with others about her memory of former South African president Nelson Mandela’s death in a South African prison sometime in the 1980s. However, Nelson Mandela did not die while imprisoned; rather, he passed away peacefully at his Houghton Estate in 2013.
As the paranormal researcher discussed her memories with colleagues, she noticed that she was not alone. Her colleagues recalled news coverage of Mandela’s death and a speech given by his grieving widow. Shocked by the number of people who shared her memory despite it never happening, Broome took to the internet to describe what she dubbed the Mandela Effect and other incidents like it.
How does it happen?
Experts aren’t certain how or why the Mandela Effect occurs, but there are a few theories:
- Priming — Exposure to a stimulus directly influences an individual’s response to a succeeding stimulus.
- Confabulation — False statements or anecdotes of events that don’t have factual support or relevant evidence, often created by an individual to compensate for holes or lost time in their memory.
- False memories — Untrue, distorted, or outlandish recollections of an event.
- Personal or emotional bias — Beliefs or experiences that trigger ideas about the world; factors that cause false remembering.
- Alternate realities or parallel universes — Commingling real-world experiences with alternate realities or parallel universes like those experienced in video games and television series.
Top Examples of the Mandela Effect
A quick Google search on the Mandela Effect yields thousands of examples. They typically occur in reference to historically significant events and pop culture. Although there are many cases of misremembering pop culture, here are some that stand out:
The Berenstein Bears
Arguably the most famous Mandela Effect of them all is the one about the children’s book series called “The Berenstain Bears.” Lots of people recall reading the “Berenstein” Bears (spelled with an “e” rather than an “a”), and pronouncing it accordingly. However, the book’s title is The Berenstain Bears, written with and pronounced as a long “a.”
“Luke, I am your father.”
In a galaxy far, far away, Darth Vader said, “Luke, I am your father,” in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back — but that’s not what happened here in the Milky Way. In actuality, Vader said, “No, I am your father.”
Remember the beloved movie “Shazam?” The one where Sinbad played a magical genie? Me too, but we’re both mistaken. Sinbad never made this movie.
Mona Lisa’s Smile
There’s a lot of discussion about Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of a smiling Mona Lisa — some say she is, in fact, smiling, while others believe her expression has changed over time. Collective false memory or conspiracy theory? It’s hard to say.
It’s a common misconception that the animated series Looney Tunes is written as “Looney Toones” — with two “Os” in tunes. But “Looney Toones,” starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, and the Tasmanian Devil, was never the title of the cartoon classic.
Fruit of the Loom Logo
Despite what you might recall, the American underwear brand never featured a cornucopia (horn of plenty) behind the fruits in their logo. It has always depicted a red apple, currants, green grapes, purple grapes, and leaves. No cornucopia in sight.
The Monopoly Man’s Monocle
Who doesn’t remember playing this game for hours in hopes of becoming as wealthy as the Monopoly Man (also known as Rich Uncle Pennybags)? The shrewd business tycoon was always dressed to the nines in a dapper suit with a black top hat and monocle. Wait, he did wear a monocle, right? Nope, he didn’t.
If you kids or pets (or both), you’re probably a fan of Febreeze. However, the popular air freshener that you love is actually spelled “Febreze” — one “e” — not “Febreeze.”
Sex in the City
Were you one of the millions of fans who followed the exploits of four BFFs living in the Big Apple? If so, you may be familiar with this Mandela Effect, as there are a ton of die-hard fans who swear the pilot episode was titled Sex in the City. Seeing as the show’s lead character Carrie Bradshaw wrote about sex, love, and relationships in New York City, this makes sense. Alas, the title has always been Sex and the City.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Who could forget when the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs uttered the now infamous, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Most of us, it turns out. Disney’s most iconic villain actually said, “Magic mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Yup, we’ve all been saying it wrong.
The last time you broke off a piece of that KitKat bar, did you happen to notice a hyphen in the candy bar’s name? Yes? No? In fact, there is no hyphen separating the “Kit” from the “Kat.” There’s no space, either. You’ll find plenty of chocolate aficionados who insist that a hyphen joined the two at one point or another, but this is just one more example of the Mandela Effect.
The Final Word
The Mandela Effect is an unusual phenomenon wherein people remember things differently than they happened. Some experts believe this is evidence of an alternate universe (or alternate universes). Others say it’s proof that memory is flawed. More research is needed to figure out which is correct, but until then, disagreement over spellings, details, events, and situations continues.