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Mandela’s Mind Tricks

Ally Shirman | ashirman19@dtechhs.org | March 13, 2019

Monocle or no monocle? The Mandela Effect influences us all, in ways we don’t even realize.
Iluustration by Roxie Baggott

If you were asked to recall the famous Darth Vader quote from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strike Back, chances are you’d recite “Luke, I am your father.” However, that line is grossly misquoted, with Anakin Skywalker actually saying “No, I am your father.”

Like junior Boris Malykin, who stood in awe and repeatedly said “No, I don’t agree with that,” the iconic line’s one-word switch comes as a surprise to many, and is often cited as an example of the Mandela Effect.

Coined by Fiona Broome, who has a career in paranormal research, the Mandela Effect is the explanation for phenomena where multiple people recall the same false memory of something from the past. In addition to Darth Vader’s line, examples include the misspelling of the Berenstain Bears or the misconception that Curious George has a tail. On the official Mandela Effect website, mandelaeffect.com, Broome explains that the multitude of incorrect memories is the evidence of multiple realities, and that people have “been ‘sliding’ between them without realizing it.”

The name of the effect itself was created after people started reporting false memories of South African leader Nelson Mandela dying during his 27 years in prison.  (He, in fact, did not.) College of San Mateo Sociology professor Jane Williams explains in an interview that “while [Mandela] was in prison, his image was not allowed to appear anywhere and no one was allowed to quote him in public.” Williams continues, “The people who were holding him were very successful in keeping him from having any contact whatsoever with the outside world for years. After a while [people] just assumed that he had died.” Though Mandela did not die until 2013, the memories of his so-called “death” remained.

A survey of 231 d.tech students with examples of the Mandela Effect revealed that the school is just as susceptible to the the effect as other people. Out of 11 possible points, students averaged getting 5.46 facts correct. The most missed question was of the well known Forrest Gump quote, which is really “Life was like a box of chocolates.” 177 of the 231 respondents confused “was” for the commonly known “is”.

According to the Mandela Effect theory, these 177 students experienced a reality other than this one. There are, however, more scientific explanations.

False memories are actually quite common. One way that a memory can be fabricated is through seeing two things at once, and combining the events into one memory. The belief about Mandela’s death, for example, could have come from someone having Mandela’s imprisonment in mind while also seeing something related to someone’s passing and connecting the two together.

Recalling a memory is also not a crystal clear process. When a person refers back to their memories, the events remembered can morph with time. Ulric Neisser, a cognitive psychologist and professor at Emory University, found that after two and a half years, students’ accuracy rate of their memories of the Challenger explosion in 1986 were dismal. The average score was less than a three out of seven, and a quarter of participating people scored a zero.

External factors can also influence recollections; the power of suggestion plays a key role in generating what are thought to be real memories, no matter how vivid. 40 d.tech students were asked if they remembered a disco ball being displayed for a long period of time in the hangar of the Rollins Road campus, and 27 percent of students surveyed stated they recalled this. Unfortunately for them, there was no disco ball hanging out in the hangar for a long time.

Why so many confident recollections? For one, the students weren’t asked “Was there a disco ball?” but instead “Do you remember a disco ball?” This phrasing, which infers that there is no doubt that there was a disco ball present, puts those d.tech students in a mindset of wondering if they remember instead of questioning the “fact” itself. Sources of Mandela Effect examples can start with this type of phrasing as well, where more and more people start to believe that something happened when it really didn’t – even if people spreading the information don’t really remember it themselves.

Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who works on ensuring accurate eyewitness testimonies in court cases, conducted an experiment to see the effects of misleading information. In a 1974 experiment, after participants watched a clip of a traffic accident, they were asked multiple questions about what they observed. Loftus found that 32 percent of participants incorrectly recalled details a week later due to the wordings of her questions.

Williams says, “If a person speaks with confidence, people will tend to believe the words.” Loftus adds, “Just because somebody tells you something, and they say it with a lot of detail, it doesn’t mean it really happened.”

One example cited as the Mandela Effect is Rich Uncle Pennybags, or the Monopoly Man, and the fact that he doesn’t have a monocle, which comes as a surprise to many. This includes senior Jessica Baggott, who after taking the survey was surprised by the fact. “I’ve played Monopoly a good amount so it’s kinda disturbing I got this wrong,” says Baggott. In her freshman year, she had a tutor who dressed up as Uncle Pennybags for Halloween. She explains, “He said ‘I got a monocle [for the costume]’ so I just assumed that he knew whether or not the guy had a monocle.”  

Baggott’s incorrect memory of the monocle being present was reinforced when her math tutor had the item as part of his costume. Because she trusted him as a reputable source and he portrayed what she thought was correct, her incorrect memory of the Monopoly Man’s attire was only strengthened.

With this new knowledge about the secrets behind the Mandela Effect, consider whether your memory is tricking you, or if you feel like you have experienced an alternative reality. And who knows, maybe somewhere in another universe Darth Vader really says Luke’s name in his famous line. But if not, you can still blow the minds of your friends and family by revealing the truth about the small misconceptions we don’t notice.

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