Tag Archives: Effect

The Mandela effect: how groups of people can all remember the wrong thing

Our memory is imperfect. We can recall some things differently from how they happened, even remember things that never happened. Sometimes, however, larger groups of people can misremember something the same way.

Image credits Eric Smart.

Psychologists call these collective false memories — or just ‘false memories’ for individuals. It’s also commonly known as the ‘Mandela effect’, so christened by “paranormal consultant” Fiona Broome around 2010.

Needless to say, they have enough of a ‘spooky factor’ to capture public interest. Examples of and explanations for the false memories abound on the internet. It’s even been proposed that those people remember alternate universes, which they’ve lived in before somehow switching to our own.

Definitely an interesting story. But the origin of this phenomenon is more likely produced by an interplay between how our memories are formed, how they are stored, and our innate drive to fit in with the group.

How it got the name

In 2009, Broome attended a conference and talked with other people about how she remembered Nelson Mandela dying in a South African prison in the 1980s. They seemed to agree with her.

His death in the 1980s makes Mandela’s term as President of South Africa between 1994 and 1999 all the more impressive.

File:Bill-Clinton-with-Nelson-Mandela.jpg
Nelson Mandela (right) and President Bill Clinton (left) in Philadelphia, 1993.
Image via Wikimedia.

Broome eventually realized her mistake and shared the story with her friends for a laugh, but soon realized that they too misremembered the dates. They even shared having memories of news coverage of Mandela’s death and a speech by his widow. Others she asked said they remembered his death in the 80’s as well.

Encouraged by her book publisher, Broome would launch a website to discuss this Mandela Effect and other similar incidents. Presumably of the paranormal kind.

What we know about it so far

Whether Mrs. Broome was being genuine or just working on establishing her new audience, we can’t know. But she is right in pointing out that collective false memories are a real phenomenon.

If you’re a fan of sci-fi or movies, you probably know this phrase: “___, I am your father”. It’s one of Darth Vader’s lines from The Empire Strikes Back and one of the most iconic phrases to come out of the cinema. But it’s not how you remember it; it’s actually “No, I am your father” (Youtube link).

The line stuck around as “Luke, I am your father” in public memory. It’s not clear exactly why. Vader’s previous line starts with “Luke”, so people may have conflated the two. It’s arguably cooler than the original quote — maybe someone in marketing figured that out and tweaked it for appeal.

File:I am your father, Luke (30514330535).jpg
It worked.
Image credits Flickr / Bryan Ledgard.

There are a few factors that could lead to the creation of such memories. First of all is suggestibility, our inclination to take information from others as true. Memory can shift to better suit information we’re presented with, especially if we’re repeatedly exposed to it. Secondly, the way our memories are encoded and recalled can alter them over time, either as far as the contents of that memory go or its source (misattribution of memory).

Memory formation and recall

Our memories reside in groups of neurons. Their position in our brains, the little network where this memory is physically housed, is that memory’s ‘engram’. As we grow and learn, our experience helps create a framework where engrams of similar memories are housed close to each other — this structure is the ‘schema’.

There are a few key steps memories go through that can disrupt them, leading to false memories. First, information must coalesce into short-term memory. Our perception of events, along with phenomena such as priming will shape what we remember.

This data must then get transcribed into long-term memory as we sleep. It can suffer a change until it is thus imprinted as it makes its way through the brain’s different storage sites — especially under states of heightened emotion.

position of consolidation to the information-to-memory process
A diagram of memory formation.
Image via Wikimedia.

Furthermore, whenever we access and recall a memory, it temporarily becomes unstable in the brain while it’s being read. New connections form between the neurons. It does re-consolidate afterward, and repetition leads to better memories due to this process. However, there’s also a chance something can go wrong and the memory changes as its engram activates.

If two memories are close together in the brain and activated at the same time, they can even start blending together — this could be why we remember Vader’s phrase the way we do.

Peer pressure

Psychological priming is a process through which our perception of an event is influenced by the events or stimuli leading up to it. This process largely works in the subconscious and can alter our memories to fit in with our priming. It largely overlaps with suggestibility.

Asking someone “how fast the car was speeding?” can prime them to remember a higher value than “what speed was the car moving with?”.

Eyewitness testimonies are notoriously unreliable because of phenomena such as priming. Memory can change — without a witness being aware of this — to suit new information, the questions they receive and their wording, or simply due to their emotional state at the time and while testifying.

Our brains will fill in the gaps in our information to make it make sense in a process called confabulation. Through this, we can remember details that never happened because they help our memory make better sense. Combined with our inborn desire to be part of the group and/or priming, our memories can thus shift to suit the collective narrative we’re presented. Any new information we receive that’s tied to the memory also alters it to some extent.

Memory inaccuracy can also come from “source monitoring errors”, when people fail to distinguish between real and imagined events. And, naturally, how old a memory is, and how often we access it, further impacts its quality.


Image via Pxfuel.

Our memories are a large part of who we are. It can be quite scary to understand that they change, without our knowledge, often to a great extent. Or, even worse, that whole groups of people can live with the same false memory.

Human memory isn’t perfect, but it was never meant to be perfect. It was meant to keep us alive. We’re still around, so it seems to be doing its job.

Modern life places very different pressures on our minds and bodies than the environments where they evolved. In a way, the Mandela effect is a by-product of our brains’ efforts to be more efficient. Keeping every memory ever in perfect shape isn’t efficient, or particularly useful. If something is important then you’ll probably interact with and think about it repeatedly, and the memory will always be refreshed and reinforced in your brain. That’s why calendars are helpful.

You don’t need to remember your fridge perfectly the first time you see it, just roughly where it is. And your brains know that. The Mandela effect lives in the memories of things we don’t check often. Something we kind of half-heard someone say once, maybe. A line in a movie 40 years ago.

Through a combination of our innate drive to fit in with the pack, the way we prime each other when we interact, and our brain’s tendency to fill in memories, false memories can spread among a group — as long as nobody there bothers to check on Wikipedia.

Lego police.

Police officers face and dole out more violence when their weapons aren’t concealed

Taser-toting police officers use more force than their unarmed counterparts, a new study reveals — but it’s not necessarily their choice.

Lego police.

Image via Pixabay.

New research studying the activity of London police officers show that those carrying visible electroshock (and likely any) weapons were more likely to be assaulted. Overall, they had to use force during these interventions 48% more often than on unarmed shifts, the study explains. While ‘use of force’ includes everything from restraint and handcuffing to CS spray, the Tasers themselves were only fired twice during the year-long study period, the authors note.

The blade itself

“We found that officers are more likely to be assaulted when carrying electroshock weaponry, and more likely to apply force,” said lead researcher Dr Barak Ariel from Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology.

“There was no increase in injury of suspects or complaints, suggesting it was not the police instigating hostilities. The presence of Tasers appears to provoke a pattern where suspects become more aggressive toward officers, who in turn respond more forcefully,” he said.

The team says these results likely stem from the ‘weapons effect‘: a psychological phenomenon in which sight of a weapon increases aggressive behavior. This aggression, however, didn’t come from the policemen themselves.

The team worked with the City of London police force, whose members are responsible for policing the Square Mile business district (in the center of London). The force also holds national responsibility for Economic Crime and prioritizes counter-terrorism, violent crime, and public order due to its central location. This force was the first in England and Wales to test “extended” use of Tasers in frontline officers — and Dr. Ariel and her team used the chance to carry out their experiment.

Dr Ariel’s team (randomly) allocated a Taser-armed officer to 400 frontline shifts and compared their results to 400 unarmed shifts carried out over the same period. A total of 5,981 incidents occurred during the study.

Overall, squads carrying Tasers saw a 48% higher use of force than unarmed ones. The team also reports seeing a “contagion effect,” whereby unarmed officers accompanying Taser carriers used force 19% more often than those on Taser-free (control) shifts. Taser-carrying shifts recorded six physical assaults against police, compared to just three on the unarmed shifts. It may seem small, but the team argues that it is a worrying trend (it is, after all, a doubling in the number of assaults).

Another surprising finding was that the actual use of electroshock weapons was minimal over the study period, despite the increased hostility. Just nine “deholsterings” were recorded during the study, only two of which resulted in electric shocks applied to a suspect.

“For many, a weapon is a deterrence. However, some individuals interpret the sight of a weapon as an aggressive cue — a threat that creates a hostile environment,” Dr Ariel said. “The response is consequently a ‘fight or flight’ dilemma that can result in a behavioural manifestation of aggression and assault. This is what we think we are seeing in our Taser experiment.”

“It would not be surprising to find that serious or violent offenders fit this criteria, especially young males — the very type of suspect that is regularly in direct contact with frontline police.”

The team also offers a simple solution to bypass this effect on the ground: conceal the weapons. Such a decision would take very little money to implement while reducing the weapons effect seen in the study — without leaving officers weaponless.

“This conclusion could be generalised to all types of police armoury, including the lethal firearms carried by police officers. If the presence of weapons can lead to aggression by suspects, so its concealment should be able to reduce aggression and increase officer safety.”

David Lawes, Chief Superintendent of the City of London Police and study co-author said that the organization is testing whether new holsters or a change in the weapons’ position would help limit the weapon effect. The City of London Police is also instructing its officers on the findings of the previous study.

The paper “The ‘Less-Than-Lethal Weapons Effect’ — Introducing TASERs to Routine Police Operations in England and Wales: A Randomized Controlled Trial” has been published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior.

What Can Quartz Crystals Really Do?

Image in public domain.

Crystals and quartz

Crystals have caught the eye of humans since the dawn of time. Some scientists have even speculated that the origins of life on Earth may trace its origins to crystals. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these gleaming mineral formations appear frequently in pop culture often as having supernatural powers (even though they don’t). A few examples of this reoccurring theme are the Silmarils in the Lord of the Rings universe and the sunstones in James Gurney’s Dinotopia.

The atoms which make up a crystal lie in a lattice which repeats itself over and over. There are several methods for generating crystals artificially in a lab, with superheating being the most common process. Likewise, in nature, a hot liquid (eg: magma) cools down, and as this happens, the molecules are attracted to each other, bunching up and forming that repeating pattern which leads to crystal formation.

Quartz is one of the most abundant minerals found on the planet. This mineral is known to be transparent or have the hues of white, yellow, pink, green, blue, or even black. It is also the most common form of crystalline silica which has a rather high melting point and can be extremely dangerous if inhaled in its powdered form. This mineral compound is present in the majority of igneous rocks. Some quartzes are considered semiprecious stones. Aside from mere bedazzlement, they have been used in countless industries.

Industrial, not magical uses

If a pressure is applied to the surface of a quartz crystal, it can give off a small electrical charge. This effect is the result of the electrically charged atoms (the ions) dispersing and spreading away from the area to which the pressure is being applied. This can be done in a number of ways, including simply squeezing the crystal. It also dispenses an electric current if a precise cut is made at an angle to the axis.

Since it possesses this property, quartz has been a component of devices such as radios, TV’s, and radar systems. Some quartz crystals are capable of transmitting ultraviolet light better than glass (by the way, quartz sand is used in making glass). Because of this, low-quality quartz is often used for making specific lenses; optical quartz is made exclusively from quartz crystals. Quartz which is somewhat clouded or which is not as transparent as the stuff used for optics is frequently incorporated into lab instrumentation.

Scientists have employed quartz for many things, and they have considered its role in the Earth sciences a crucial one. Some have stated it directly brings about the reaction which forms mountains and causes earthquakes! It continues to be used in association with modern technology, and it likely will lead us to more discoveries in the future.

Can’t get any rest when sleeping in a new place? It’s just your brain keeping you safe

A new study offers insight into why you might have a hard time sleeping on the first night in a new place: half of your brain stays awake to watch out for potential dangers.

Image credits Jacob Stewart / flickr

If you’re anything like me you know that feeling you get when sleeping in a new place — it’s not necessarily (but often) a restless night, and even if you do get some sleep it just feels somehow off. If you keep in mind that our brains are still wired to keep us alive in the wild, there’s a pretty straightforward explanation, a new study finds.

Yuka Sasaki of Brown University and her team recruited 35 people to spend several nights in a sleep lab, while they monitored their brain activity with advanced imaging techniques. The results consistently show that on the first night in the lab, subjects’ left hemispheres remained more active during deep sleep (or “slow-wave sleep”) than the right ones. This effect is similar to that seen in marine mammals, that only shut down one half of their brain at a time during sleep, but much less pronounced.

“We know that marine animals and some birds show unihemispheric sleep, one awake and the other asleep,” says Yuka Sasaki of Brown University. “[The findings suggests that] our brains may have a miniature system of what whales and dolphins have.”

The so-called first night effect seems to be caused by the difference in brain activity between the two hemispheres — the more pronounced this difference, the harder it was for participants to fall asleep. The hemisphere with increased activity also showed greater response to sounds — the team found that playing beeping noises in the right ear (corresponding to the left hemisphere) woke participants up more easily than when played in the left ear.

Those asymmetries observed during the first night of sleep weren’t evident in subsequent sleep sessions. All this suggests that our brains delegate the left hemisphere to retain part of its activity when we’re sleeping in a new environment. This way it can serve as a “night watch” that wakes the sleeper up if there’s danger, the researchers said.

But there are things you can do to improve your sleep: just lull your brain into a sense of safety. Bring your pillow along or find a accommodation similar to your usual sleeping spot.

“Human’s brains are very flexible,” Sasaki says. “Thus, people who often are in new places may not necessarily have poor sleep on a regular basis.”

The researchers are planning to test if this first night effect can be reduced or eliminated by lowering brain activity throung transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The full paper, titled “Night Watch in One Brain Hemisphere during Sleep Associated with the First-Night Effect in Humans” has been published online in the journal Current Biology and can be read here.

The Crunch Effect — how listening to your chewing can help you lose weight

The sounds you make while chewing have a significant effect on the amount of food you eat, a new study has found. The results suggest that people are likely to consume less if they can hear themselves eating.

Image via tclw.das.ohio.gov

Researchers at Brigham Young University and Colorado State University have found that your TV, radio, and computer are making you fat. Not by bombarding you with food ads (though they totally are) but by blocking the sounds of your chewing. In a recent study, they found that the noise your food makes while you’re eating can have a significant effect on how much food you eat.

“Sound is typically labeled as the forgotten food sense,” adds Ryan Elder, assistant professor of marketing at BYU’s Marriott School of Management. “But if people are more focused on the sound the food makes, it could reduce consumption.”

“For the most part, consumers and researchers have overlooked food sound as an important sensory cue in the eating experience,” said study coauthor Gina Mohr, an assistant professor of marketing at CSU.

The team carried out three separate experiments to quantify the effects of “food sound salience” on quantity of food consumed during a meal. In one experiment, participants were given snacks to eat while they wore headphones playing either loud or quiet noises. The ones loud enough to mask the sound of chewing made subjects eat more — 4 pretzels compared to 2.75 pretzels for the “quiet” group.

In another of their experiments they found that just having people hear chewing sounds through an advertisement can decrease the amount they eat.

Elder and Morh call this the “Crunch Effect.” The main takeaway of their work should be the idea of mindfulness, they said. Being more mindful of not just the taste and physical appearance of food, but also of the sound it makes can help consumers to eat less.

“When you mask the sound of consumption, like when you watch TV while eating, you take away one of those senses and it may cause you to eat more than you would normally,” Elder said.

“The effects many not seem huge —one less pretzel— but over the course of a week, month, or year, it could really add up.”

So the next time you sit down for a meal, take your headphones off and mute the TV. Or find a movie where there’s a lot of very audible chewing.

The full paper, titled “” has been published online in the journal Food Quality and Preference and is available here.