What Is the Mandela Effect?

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The Mandela effect is a term that was coined by internet researcher Fiona Broome to describe a type of false memory that is shared widely by a large group of people. Although not widely researched, false memories are common and can be easily swayed by suggestions.

Read on to learn more about the Mandela effect, including how it started, examples in popular culture, and what the research says about how and why false memories are formed.

How Did the Mandela Effect Start?

Fiona Broome, an author and “paranormal researcher,” is credited with coining the term Mandela effect. She described an experience where she had a false memory that activist and South African president Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. The truth is that Mandela died in 2013, after he was out of prison.

Broome claimed that not only did she have this false memory, but so did many others. Her thoughts and ideas spread widely online. As such, the idea of a phenomenon of pervasive false memories became popularized and known as The Mandela Effect.

Examples of the Mandela Effect

Broome’s Nelson Mandela example was just the first of many examples of widespread false memories that have been discussed extensively online. Let’s take a look at some other common examples.

The Monopoly Man

One example of the Mandela effect is a false visual memory people have of the Monopoly Man, who is the mascot for the Monopoly board game. According to a 2022 study published in Popular Science, many people picture the Monopoly Man as wearing a monocle, but the truth is that he doesn’t wear one in any available published image.

Other images in popular culture that are frequently remembered incorrectly, according to this study include:

  • the Apple logo
  • the Fruit of the Loom logo
  • the Volkswagen logo
  • Curious George
  • Pikachu

Sinbad's Shazaam

Many people thought they remembered the actor-comedian Sinbad appearing as a genie in a film called “Shazaam” in the 1990s. In fact, no such movie exists. There was a 1996 genie movie called “Kazaam,” but it featured basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, not Sinbad. 

“I Am Your Father”

When the hero Luke Skywalker faces Darth Vader in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back, he accuses the villain of killing his father. The villain replies, “No, I am your father.” However, many people insist they remember the line as “Luke, I am your father.”

“Mirror, Mirror”

Many people think they remember a scene from the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” Disney film where the Queen says, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall.” However, this line does not exist in the film. Instead, the Queen says, “Magic mirror on the wall.” The famous “Mirror, Mirror” line comes from the Grimm Brothers’ original tale, not the Disney movie.

Berenstain Bears

The popular book series by Stan and Jan Berenstain has spawned hundreds of titles, as well as animated series and specials on television. But a lot of people have been confused by the spelling of authors’ last name. Many people remember it being spelled as “Berenstein,” but it’s actually spelled “Berenstain.”

Looney Tunes

Many people thought they remembered the “Looney Tunes” franchise being spelled as “Looney Toons,” with the double O in both words, but that’s not correct. Several other examples of the Mandela effect are related to the spellings of brand names. People have misremembered the “Froot Loops” cereal name as “Fruit Loops,” “Febreze” as “Febreeze,” “Skechers” sneakers as “Sketchers,” and “Oscar Mayer” wieners as “Oscar Meyer.”

Why Does the Mandela Effect Happen?

The Mandela effect is not a recognized psychiatric condition. Not much formal research has been done on the Mandela effect, and why large numbers of people seem to end up having similar, highly specific but patently false memories. However, there has been an abundance of research on false memories themselves and what causes them.

False Memories Often Stem From Trauma

People who experience trauma and develop PTSD often have memory issues. They may replay the traumatic event over and over in their mind, and sometimes parts of it may be misremembered. At times, they may have trouble remembering some of the traumatic events, because of how painful they were. Additionally, people with depression often misremember events. For example, they may more easily remember negative events and have trouble correctly remembering positive events.

People Are Often Overly Confident In Their False Memories 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), people who experience false memories often hold fast to their beliefs that the memories are true and have trouble admitting that they could be wrong. In an experiment referenced by the APA, adults were fed false memories about being lost in a shopping mall during childhood. In all, about one fourth of these adults ended up adopting this memory as truth, sometimes even adding new details about the experience along the way.

Confabulation May Be At Play

A neuropsychiatric disorder called confabulation may be involved in certain types of false memories. In confabulation, people's false memories are created unintentionally. This is why this condition is often referred to as “honest lying.”

Researchers have hypothesized that confabulation happens when there are gaps in a person’s memory and the mind fills these gaps with false memories. Confabulation is usually associated with conditions like traumatic brain injuries, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, but even healthy people can develop it.

A Quick Review

The Mandela effect describes a phenomenon where a large group of people adopt a false memory about the same event or image, usually one associated with history or popular culture. The term was coined by Fiona Broome, a researcher who misremembered the details of Nelson Mandela’s death and claimed that a large group of other people shared this exact false memory.

Although there isn’t much research on the subject of the Mandela effect, experiencing false memories, and believing them to be true, is something widely recognized by psychiatrists and other experts. If you have any questions about your memory, or if your experience of false memories is concerning you, please reach out to a medical professional.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. La Paglia JA, Chan JCK. Telling a good story: The effects of memory retrieval and context processing on eyewitness suggestibility. PLOS One. 2019;14(2):e0212592. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0212592

  3. History.com. South African president Nelson Mandela dies at 95.

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  5. APA Dictionary of Psychology. False memory.

  6. Wiggins A, Bunin JL. Confabulation. StatPearls Publishing.

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