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The Mandela Effect and Criminal Investigations

Didn't Curious George have the cutest little tail? He didn't – no tail at all, even though so many of us remember it.

If you close your eyes, can you see Humphrey Bogart leaning on the piano, saying, "Play it again, Sam."? If you said yes, just know that you aren't "remembering" anything. That scene I just described from Casablanca never happened.

Have you ever repeated the movie line, "Luke, I am your father."? No matter how you answered, you didn't repeat a thing because the character of Darth Vader never said that.

There is a long list of things that large groups of people misremember. That's the Mandela Effect!

What is it?

The Mandela Effect occurs when many different people incorrectly remember the same thing. It is named after the popular false memory that Nelson Mandela, a South African human rights activist, died in prison in the 1980s. In fact, he was released from prison and went on to be the first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He didn't exactly lead a low-profile life, so why do so many people think he died in prison?

Potential Causes

There are a few theories about the Mandela Effect.


According to WebMD, "Confabulation is not lying. Confabulation differs from other forms of falsehood. Confabulators have no reason to tell a lie and don't realize that they're not telling the truth. Their brains simply filled in some missing spots with false information. Some people have called this 'honest lying.'"

In some situations, we simply don't remember details, and instead of saying exactly that, we fill in the blanks. We may mix a partial memory, some logic, and a bit of misinformation someone told us to make a perfectly reasonable truth – lying without even knowing it.


In some cases, a specific suggestion can cause people to misremember something. It reminds me of the default to truth theory we've discussed before. Someone makes a statement, and if we have no reason to doubt them, we take what they've said as factual.

If your friend asks you if you noticed her husband's grey pickup truck in the driveway last week when you drove by, you may say yes, even if the pickup truck you saw was red. You had no reason to correct your friend, time had passed, and most importantly, the car's color wasn't the important detail.

Why should crime junkies care?

Ed McMahon worked for American Family Publishers, and his face was simply on the envelopes. A bunch of us probably just mixed similar companies up and remembered a lot of examples where Ed McMahon was talking to people.

Monkeys have tails! I think our common sense and general knowledge just gave Curious George one.

Ingrid Bergman's character in Casablanca said, "Play it once, Sam. For old times' sake." At least we didn't wholly imagine the spirit of the line, and Humphrey Bogart was the star of the movie, so once that misremembrance got out, I can see why it made sense to people.

How is it possible that we never heard Darth Vader say what is arguably his most famous line? He actually says, "No, I am your father." Do we add "Luke" to make it more sense outside of the context of the movie?

For all of the examples of the Mandela Effect, you can puzzle out how we ended up with the misremembrance, and for the most part, no actual harm is done. But the ramifications are much more severe when I think about memories, testimony, and the reliance we have on what witnesses can recall.

What happens when people misremember the identity of a gunman because they have been primed by the media? Or by the line of questioning they've been asked? You end up with a group of people sharing the same incorrect story, a story that seems trustworthy because multiple people are saying the same thing, and they have no reason to lie.

What happens when police investigate a suspect and people in the community mix up what they know about the suspect simply because the police are inquiring?

Resources for Citizen Investigators & Internet Sleuths

I haven't uncovered cases explicitly related to large groups misremembering, but I will update this post if I do. The closest may be the Kitty Genovese story, but that is another Effect altogether. If you can think of any, drop them in the comments! I will share a story that is the perfect (terrible) example of priming a witness and a few resources to learn more about the Mandela Effect.

The Real Killer podcast tells the story of the 1982 murder of JoAnn Tate and one of her daughters and the misidentification of Rodney Lincoln as the murderer. While it isn't a group misremembrance, it is a fascinating story of what felt like a real memory to a victim that eventually proved false. And if you're as gripped by the story as I was, I encourage you to join the Facebook group.

I haven't checked out these books, but here's what I've added to my list:

  • Mandela Effect: Friend or Foe?

  • Alternate Memories: The Mandela Effect

What resources would you recommend – about the Madela Effect or anything related to the fascinating topic of human memory?

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