People rely on their memory for a lot of things. They expect their brains to recall accurate information on a wide variety of topics. But what happens when personal recollection is false? In a recent memory study, 76% of adults failed to recall information accurately. Perhaps more disturbing, 30% of people could be convinced of experiencing a false autobiographical event, meaning they don’t remember their own life accurately.
It’s bad enough when false memories crop up on an individual level. What happens when whole groups of people believe the same lie? Once used to describe the widespread falsehood that Nelson Mandela died in 1980, the Mandela Effect is now considered an umbrella term for collective false memory. Examples abound in popular culture. Many people remember the Monopoly Man as wearing a monocle, but the branded character has never been illustrated that way. In Star Wars Episode V, most people remember Darth Vader’s grand reveal as “Luke, I am your father,” but in reality, the line is “no, I am your father.”
Most of the above examples are innocent, but they have distressing implications. People can become very confident in their false memories. Recent studies suggest that up to half of the population may not be able to tell false memories from real ones. Lies and rumors are 70% more likely to win out over factual information. Given the proliferation of internet access and deepfake technology, misinformation can travel the globe long before the true story comes out. The Mandela Effect may be growing more common.
What causes the Mandela Effect? Numerous groups like to speculate. Some consider the Mandela Effect to be evidence of a multiverse while others think it reveals a government conspiracy. Psychologists reject both ideas; they consider the Mandela Effect to be a combination of several related phenomena. There are several reasons an individual may remember details or events incorrectly. People may mix up imagination and reality or theorize on subjects for which they lack evidence. Then, when they repeat their “findings” to a group, others may accept their account out of a desire to show conformity.