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The Mandela Effect is a theory that suggest people can share a memory of something that didn’t occur or happened differently than how they remember it.

The Mandela Effect is a theory that suggest people can share a memory of something that didn’t occur or happened differently than how they remember it, explained by parallel realities and quantum science. It’s named after Nelson Mandela, who a large number of people thought they remembered dying in prison in 1980 despite actually living another 14 years. After these reports surfaced online, paranormal researcher Fiona Broome coined the theory in 2009, speculating that these memories stem from shared experiences in alternate realities.

Since Broome started her website, it’s garnered vast media attention, going viral in 2015. The Reddit page about the Mandela Effect has 113,000 subscribers. More Internet users have shared other instances of false memories that seemed to be shared across the country. Another example is a false memory about Star Wars. Many remember the iconic line from Darth Vader as, “Luke, I am your father.” In the movie, however, Darth Vader clearly states, “No, I am your father.” This instance threw readers into a frenzy, as even James Earl Jones, who voiced Darth Vader, remembered the line incorrectly.

Fiona Broome explains that she believes there are possible explanations for this phenomenon, including the presence of an alternate universe or that our universe is a virtual reality, and the false memories are glitches in the system. The unreliability of the human memory, however, make these theories far-fetched and unlikely explanations for shared false memories.

The human memory isn’t a recording device that etches past events into the mind. Memory isn’t a perfect rendering of the past and can be altered. Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has studied memory for decades, specializing in false memories. Through her practice, she’s discovered that memory is constructive and can be reconstructed by outside sources over time.

In one of Loftus’ studies, she asked participants to recall details of a simulated car crash. She asked the participants, “How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” and “How fast were the cars going when they smashed each other?” When Loftus used the word “smashed,” the participants recalled that the cars were going faster versus when Loftus asked them with the word “hit.” The word “smashed” also elicited people to remember that there was broken glass at the scene, even though there was none. The framing of the questions affected how the participants remembered the events.

By feeding them information through the connotation of certain verbs, Loftus was able to change memories. Loftus claims that misinformation about the past can contaminate or distort memories. In the case of the Mandela Effect, it’s probable that the false memories developed out of widespread misinformation. For example, since many people have been misquoting the iconic Darth Vader for years, even Star Wars fanatics remember the false wording. The confusion likely stemmed from the constant exposure to the wrong line, as it appears on merchandise and Star Wars references. Because people saw “Luke, I am your father” so frequently, they began to believe they remembered the scene that way.

While the idea that false memories have manifested through alternate realities is interesting, the intricacies of human psychology are a more logical explanation for these shared constructions of the past.

Diana Witt is a freshman theatre major. Contact Diana at wittdr@dukes.jmu.edu.