Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Mandela Effect

If you grew up in an English-speaking country, you may have read the Berenstein Bears books. They are a collection of books telling very sweet stories about a family of bears. If you asked someone who had read those books as a child to spell out the title, most people would spell it as Berenstein. Funnily enough, the actual spelling of the family of bears was Berenstain Bears. Not a single book was printed under Berenstein Bears.

This caused a massive debate on the internet. Why did so many people misremember the spelling (with such confidence) of such a beloved book? One theory is that according to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, there exists an infinite number of parallel universes. Therefore, it is possible that people who remember the spelling as “Berenstein” come from a parallel universe and somehow crossed into the current universe where the spelling has always been “Berenstain” at some point.

Of course, the most logical answer is that our memories are not as trustworthy as we think. The Berenstain Bears is a classic example of collective false memory, also referred to as the Mandela effect. This name comes from a similar phenomenon where many people reported having memories of the South African president Nelson Mandela passing away in the 1980’s, rather than 2013 when he actually died. The most likely reason people think the name is spelled “Berenstein” is that “-stein” is a much more common suffix to a Jewish name and we are more used to it.

We still do not have a perfect model of how memory works, but there is substantial evidence that memory recall is not perfect and can easily be manipulated.

For example, in one study, a group of people were shown a childhood photo of themselves standing next to Bugs Bunny at Disneyland. A third of people reported that they had a clear memory of that day, some even coming up with elaborate stories of how the day went. However, the photo had been falsified by the researchers with a failsafe way of proving it – Bugs Bunny is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers and has never featured inside Disneyland.

A simpler example is when someone is asked to recall something through a presupposition, such as asking “What shade of green was the perpetrator’s shirt?” which automatically leads to person to falsely think that the shirt was green.

We are all the product of our past experiences and thoughts. But can we really trust the past if we cannot trust our own memories? Perhaps it is more comforting to believe that we are from a different timeline.