Researchers Stumped by Our Collective False Memories

Experts can't explain why so many of us recall Curious George with a tail
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 22, 2022 12:51 PM CDT
The 'Mandela Effect' Is Real
This image released by Peacock shows a scene from the animated series "Curious George."   (Peacock via AP)

Picture the popular children's book character Curious George. Does he have a tail? If so, you are one of many people to suffer from the Mandela Effect—the name given to describe the phenomenon of collective false memories that are taken by many to be the real deal. Named for the collective false memory that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s (he actually died at his home in 2013), per Live Science, the experience is getting new exposure thanks to a pre-print study that asked participants to review three similar images and pick the correct original. In one set, Curious George was shown tailless, with a bushy tail, and with a much thinner one, per IFL Science.

Participants were asked to choose the original image, rate their confidence in their choice, and guess how many times they had seen the image before. Curious George was among seven images named as "visual Mandela effects" or VMEs, because they were consistently misremembered despite the participants reporting much familiarity with and confidence in their choice. Participants also wrongly recalled that the Monopoly Man wears a monocle, the Fruit of the Loom logo features a cornucopia, and Pikachu the Pokemon has a black tip at the end of its tail. What researchers found "remarkable" was that participants continued to choose the wrong image even after they were given the correct one to study for a time.

Schema theory, the idea that we fall back on associations, might explain why a person would recall the Monopoly Man with a monocle. After all, that accessory is associated with wealth. But it doesn't explain why participants consistently recalled a cornucopia in the Fruit of the Loom logo. They could have instead chosen a logo featuring a plate, and "plates are more frequently associated with fruit," University of Chicago researcher Deepasri Prasad says in a release. Ultimately, "VME cannot be universally explained by a single account," researchers write in the paper, which is due to be published in the journal Psychological Science, adding this raises "new questions on the nature of false memories." (More memory stories.)

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