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Do You See What You See?

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    Fiona Broome and others thought they remembered Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. He actually died at home in 2013. (AP/Themba Hadebe)
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    In a study, researchers showed participants three images of the Monopoly Man. Does he have glasses, a monocle, or neither? (©Prasad & Bainbrige/CC)
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    Can you remember which color C-3PO’s legs really are? (©Prasad & Bainbrige/CC)
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    Test yourself: Which Curious George image is correct? The answer is at the end of this story. (©Prasad & Bainbridge/CC)
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    Which Volkswagen logo is the real one? The answer is at the end of the story. (©Prasad & Bainbridge/CC)
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Imagine the Monopoly Man. Is he wearing a monocle?

If you say yes, you’re not alone. You’re also wrong. Monopoly’s mascot has never had a monocle.

You’ve just experienced the Mandela Effect: the phenomenon of shared false memories. A new study aims to explain these weirdly specific misconceptions.

The name “Mandela Effect” comes from researcher Fiona Broome. She and many others claim to remember South African president Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. He actually died in his home in 2013.

People on the internet have found many Mandela Effect examples. Remember C-3PO, the fussy droid from Star Wars? Do you picture him with two golden legs? Wrong! One leg is gold. One is silver. Have you ever read the Berenstein Bears? Think again. It’s actually called the Berenstain Bears.

Our own editor recounts her desire for a hat she remembers from a music video. A group of her friends recall the very same style—even identifying one like it on a retail website. Guess what? No one in the music video wears the hat the friend group remembers.

We all misremember sometimes. But how do multiple people make the same exact memory mistake? Some wild theories say it involves alternate realities or time travel. Because of those extreme ideas, researchers haven’t taken the Mandela Effect very seriously. They’ve mostly studied it to learn how conspiracy theories spread.

But a new study suggests the Mandela Effect actually exists. Researchers showed subjects three versions of popular images. One version was correct (e.g. the Monopoly Man without a monocle). Another version included the Mandela Effect detail people claim to remember (e.g. the Monopoly Man with a monocle). The third version included a fake detail added by researchers (e.g. the Monopoly Man wearing glasses).

Subjects almost always chose the Mandela Effect version, even if they had recently seen the correct one. They rarely chose the version invented by the researchers. They seemed to share the same false memories.

Why does this happen? There’s likely no single answer. In some cases, people might fill in details with what they expect. For example, when you see C-3PO, your brain may assume his legs share the same color as the rest of him.

Other examples are harder to explain. Why do we remember the Monopoly Man wearing a monocle? Some suggest it’s because we associate monocles with wealth. Researchers don’t know for sure.

Whatever its cause, the Mandela Effect illustrates our fallibility. We’re not always right. The Bible reminds us not to lean on our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5) Memory may fail, but we can trust our perfect God.

Why? Even science supports that sometimes we have too much confidence in our own understanding. But we have a God who knows everything.

Curious George: 1
Volkswagen: 2