The Mandela Effect

February 28, 2023

If you’re a longtime fan of the Planetary Broadcast Network, you may recall the day when the legendary underwater wrestler, Lefty Keplich, passed away. On that day, we delivered a brief retrospective of his life and career as an athlete, coach, and ambassador for the sport. We received many calls and letters from concerned listeners who claimed that we were mistaken—Keplich had drowned many years earlier while servicing his home pool. When I surveyed our newsroom, many staff members admitted that they, too, had been surprised when the press release came into the office, because they also seemed to recall that the eight-time Olympic medalist and world champion had passed away decades earlier. 

This is an example of the Mandela Effect, the popular handle given to any collective false memories. The name was coined by paranormal researcher, Fiona Broome, when she discovered that she and many others recalled Nelson Mandela dying in prison several decades prior to his 2013 passing. The list of recognized Mandela effects goes beyond obituaries, and includes visual and auditory examples. Logos of popular products, the lyrics of songs, and iconic lines from movies and TV shows are quite commonly misremembered by many, and lead to confusion and disbelief when we are confronted by the source material. There are now many examples of this effect, with more popping up on social media daily. 

Contrary to popular belief, these are not accepted as evidence of “glitches in the matrix” or “universe slipping.” Instead, researchers point to a number of psychological causes for the effect. One is confabulation, which is creating details to fill gaps in our memories. Another is conflation; mixing events, words, or individuals who are similar into a false memory. For example, many people remember a film named Shazaam, starring the very tall comedian, Sinbad—the actual movie Kazaam, starring the also very tall Shaquille O’Neal, seems to have contributed to this memory.

Perhaps the most common cause of false memories is the internet. The egalitarian nature of the internet means that misinformation can spread very widely and quickly, leading to many having shared false memories. It’s also likely that some of the Mandela effects reported in popular media were simply created by enterprising writers looking to flesh out their latest “listicle.” Once presented with the idea that, for example, Curious George used to have a tail, or Uncle Pennybags from the game Monopoly wore a monocle, it is easy to begin to believe that you actually recall these characters in that way. 

Whatever the causes, Mandela effects often prove very persistent. Psychologists at the University of Chicago conducted a study of visual Mandela effects (VMEs), and discovered that even after test subjects were told to study the original version of a VME, they still selected the version they recalled as the “correct” version. This closely matches my own experience—I have recently discovered that the beloved books from my childhood did not feature the “Berenstein Bears.” It is actually spelled “Berenstain,” but I find this very hard to accept. It is, in fact, easier for me to accept this as evidence of the multiverse.

For more reporting on this and other fascinating ways that the past is not what you recall, stay tuned to the Planetary Broadcast Network. We bring you all the news you need to be an informed member of our great democratic experiment, and to tenuously cling to this ever-shifting reality.