See if you can guess which movies the following quotes came from:
Did you say 1) Casablanca, 2) Field of Dreams, 3) Star War: The Empire Strikes Back, 4) Star Trek, and 5) Snow White? If you did, congratulations, you got 0 out of 5 correct. What you just experienced though was a fascinating phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect.
The Mandela Effect is a term that describes a kind of collective misremembering, such as the memory that many people have that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s rather than in 2013 after spending five years as president of a post-apartheid South Africa.
Many people also remember New Zealand as being north or west of Australia. In fact, it’s Southeast of the land down under, as you can confirm for yourself on any globe or Google Maps.
Have you ever eaten Fruit Loops cereal? What about Jiffy peanut butter? Did you read the Berenstein Bears as a child? In fact, the sugary cereal is (and was) named Froot Loops, and while Jif peanut butter is (and was) a popular brand, Jiffy never existed. And those stories about bears were meant to teach us about right and wrong, they were about the Berenstain family.
To some, these discrepancies between our memories and reality are evidence of parallel universes, shifting timelines, or glitches in the matrix. And indeed, these effects are disconcerting to many of us. But their explanation likely lies not in reality having changed in some spooky way, but rather in some of the fundamental properties of how the memory works.
Nearly a century ago, Bartlett (1932) demonstrated that human memory is not akin to a video or audio recording. Rather we often remember the gist of a story, in his case an unfamiliar Native American folktale about ghosts, rather than accurately recalling all of its details.
In one experiment, Bartlett had participants read a folktale for the first time and then asked to recall it with as many details as possible, in some cases at a delay of several minutes, in others after several years. Bartlett found that people tend to omit or change many of the story’s details, and to do so in a way that seemed to make more sense to the participants.
Later work by Elizabeth Loftus (Loftus &........
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