New study seeks to explain the 'Mandela Effect' – the bizarre phenomenon of shared false memories

Imagine the Monopoly Man.

Is he wearing a monocle or not?

If you pictured the character from the popular board game wearing one, you’d be wrong. In fact, he has never worn one.

If you’re surprised by this, you’re not alone. Many people possess the same false memory of this character. This phenomenon takes place for other characters, logos and quotes, too. For example, Pikachu from Pokémon is often thought to have a black tip on his tail, which he doesn’t have. And many people are convinced that the Fruit of the Loom logo includes a cornucopia. It doesn’t.

We call this phenomenon of shared false memories for certain cultural icons the “visual Mandela Effect.”

People tend to be puzzled when they learn that they share the same false memories with other people. That’s partly because they assume that what they remember and forget ought to be subjective and based on their own personal experiences.

However, research we have conducted shows that people tend to remember and forget the same images as one another, regardless of the diversity of their individual experiences. Recently, we have shown these similarities in our memories even extend to our false memories.

What is the Mandela Effect?

The term “Mandela Effect” was coined by Fiona Broome, a self-described paranormal researcher, to describe her false memory of former South African president Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. She realized that many other people also shared this same false memory and wrote an article about her experience on her website. The concept of shared false memories spread to other forums and websites, including Reddit.

Since then, examples of the Mandela Effect have been widely shared on the internet. These include names like “the Berenstain Bears,” a children’s book series that is falsely remembered as spelled “-ein” instead of “-ain,” and characters like Star Wars’ C-3PO, who is falsely remembered with two gold legs instead of one gold and one silver leg.