February 23, 2020

The Science of False Memories

“There’s a theory doing the rounds online that nuclear research experiments caused the world to shift into an alternate reality where Donald Trump became president. This might sound stupid, but some people genuinely believe it to be true. And to back up their theory they cite the “Mandela effect”, a phenomenon that supposedly occurs when large groups of people believe something happened even though evidence shows it isn’t true.

The name of the theory dates back to 2010, when numerous people on the internet falsely remembered Nelson Mandela was dead. It was widely believed he died in prison during the 1980s. Mandela was actually freed in 1990 and passed away in 2013 – despite some people’s declarations they remember clips of his funeral on TV.

Psychologists say these collective misremenberings can be mostly put down to memory distortions and what’s known as “the misinformation effect”. This is where information you learn after an event can interfere with the way you recall it. So in the case of Mandela’s death, the passing of Steve Biko – another prominent South African anti-apartheid activist who died around this time – possibly caused this misperception.

Despite psychologists explaining why such misrememberings happen, some people claim these differences arise from the movement between parallel realities, which cause us to remember things incorrectly. This is based on the theory that within each universe alternative versions of events and objects exist.”

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