Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013 due to the effects of a respiratory infection. The death of South Africa’s first black president and one of the main icons of the struggle against apartheid took place in his home after a long period of agony at the age of ninety-five, being picked up by most of the major media.

However, there are a lot of people who were surprised by this fact, claiming to remember the former South African president who died in prison and even claiming to recall scenes from his funeral. This is not an isolated case, but on other occasions a similar phenomenon has been reported in which some people remember things that in principle did not happen. While there are numerous cases prior to the death of the South African leader, this phenomenon has been referred to as the Mandela effect .

The Mandela effect

The Mandela effect was named after Fiona Broome, a researcher and passionate about the paranormal, who would be very surprised to hear of Nelson Mandela’s death. The reason for the surprise is that Broome vividly remembered his death and its consequences , as well as his funeral, many years before his actual death. And not only she, but other people said they remembered the same thing. Later on, the debate would move to the Internet, where many people would share similar experiences.

Thus, Mandela effect refers to those situations in which multiple people seem to recall, in a similar or even identical way, phenomena that have not occurred or do not coincide with the real historical data. For these people their memory is real and true, as is the fact that in the present they are receiving information that contradicts that memory and this appears to be true.

Other examples of this effect

Memories of Nelson Mandela’s death are not the only ones in which the Mandela effect has appeared. Other historical phenomena have had the same effect.

Another case in which the Mandela effect has appeared can be found during the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in July 1989. On July 5, a Chinese citizen stood in front of a line of tanks and managed to block their way. This scene, which would be photographed and recorded and later broadcast in numerous media, would also cause surprise for many of those who lived the events, who claim to remember how the young man did not manage to block the passage of the tanks but was run over by them, causing his death.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was beatified, i.e. made a saint, during the year 2016. This fact surprised many people when they thought they remembered that this event took place in 1990, seven years before her death.

Something similar happened with Mohamed Ali, who continued to live long after a large number of people had taken him for granted.

In fact, even far from high-impact historical events or real historical figures, similar phenomena have occurred. Similar cases can be found in film, music or theatre. A very common example that can be found in most people can be seen in the Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back. In one of the most famous and replicated scenes, Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker that he is his father with the well-known phrase “Luke, I am your father” . However, in the original version of the tape we can see that the real dialogue is “No, I am your father”, having replaced one text with another in the collective imagination.

Attempts to explain the effect

The attempt to explain this phenomenon has provoked a wide debate , with several attempts to explain it from different theories and perspectives.

Some people have relied on the theory of multiple universes to try to explain the Mandela effect, proposing that the reason for it can be found in the overlapping timelines of different alternate realities. In this way, what happened in this reality would be joined with what is proper to another, appearing in people’s memory an event that in our reality would not have happened yet or that under certain circumstances could have happened.

Furthermore, some start from quantum theory to consider that this effect is due to the possible displacement of our consciousness through such alternate universes. When we are faced with the real fact of the current universe, confusion appears due to the dissociation between what is remembered and what is being reported, being for the subject both memories totally credible.

Within this stream, other people seem to consider the Mandela effect to be the product of the opening of portals between parallel universes due to the collisions between particles that occur at CERN. Both perspectives are based only on speculation, and are rejected by the vast majority of researchers in psychology and neuroscience.

Another school of thought seems to indicate that the causes of the Mandela effect can be found in an attempt at mental control and manipulation by government agencies, introducing false information for uncertain purposes.

Finally, another explanation offered by some people is based on the fact that we live in a programmed reality, in which from time to time modifications occur that alter our internal programming and leave traces of our previous state.

Psychological explanation of the Mandela effect

Although the multiple theories on this subject may be of great interest, this phenomenon can be explained by psychology . Specifically, the origin of the Mandela effect can be found in a series of mental processes related to a malfunction or distortion of memory.

The presence of a Mandela effect is not an indication that the person is lying about what they remember. For him the memory is very real, the memory exists as such. However, the origin of this effect can be found in the interference of other information or the creation of fragments of memory with which the memory of events is filled.

The reason for the generation of these memories can be found in the fact that memory is largely constructive, remembering the main elements that were part of a scene and then reconstructing them mentally when we need to recover the memory. From this, it is easy that the introduction of new elements a posteriori or the interference of other thoughts, memories or beliefs can provoke a false memory.

Some of the mental phenomena that can explain the Mandela effect are the following. While they may be present as symptoms of various medical or mental problems, it is not uncommon for them to appear in the non-clinical population. In other words, it does not have to be indicative of mental disorder.

1. The conspiracy

One of the main elements that could explain the existence of the Mandela effect is confabulation, the phenomenon by which we humans fill the different gaps in our memory with fabricated memories , in an unconscious way. This problem can be observed, among others, in cases of amnesia and dementia, but it is not uncommon for it to appear in people without clinical problems. This type of confabulation is also frequent in people who have suffered severe trauma, such as sexual abuse in childhood, sometimes generating false memories to protect the individual from psychic pain and suffering.

Thus, on the basis of a real memory, the individual elaborates and creates different spaces and fragments of memory. In most cases the generation of these fragments is not done with the intention of deceiving others, but the individual himself believes that his memory is such.

2. External induction of memories

The fact that multiple people coincide in the same memory may be due to the fact that it is not impossible to induce a false memory in other people. In fact, it has been shown that hypnotic or suggestion-based processes can induce them with some ease. Through language and depending on the type of questions asked about a specific situation, the person being analysed can modify his or her internal perception of the recalled facts, as demonstrated by the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus.

That is why when hypnosis is used to recover memories, extreme precautions must be taken to avoid the generation of false memories. In fact, there is evidence that the use of hypnosis in cases of hysteria during the Salpétriêre schools produced in some cases the false memory of having been abused.

  • Related article: “Hypnosis, the great unknown”

3. Cryptomnesia

Linked to the previous point we can find the phenomenon called cryptomnesia, which allows a memory to be experienced as something lived for the first time due to the presence of confusion regarding its origin. Let us consider as our own an idea or information that we have read, seen or heard, so that we can identify as a memory something that has come to us through others by confusing the memory of what we have thought or perceived with the real memory of the events.

In this way, one person can identify the belief of another as his own making, so that it is possible to expand the same idea without it being considered as coming from others.