False memory

memory of events that actually did not happen

Both perception ("experiencing") and remembering are processes which involve the brain. For this reason, errors do sometimes occur. Errors in perception are commonly called illusions. Emil Kraepelin used the term "Erinnerungsverfälschung" (memory falsification) to speak about false memories.[1][2][3]

Psychiatrists of Europe! Protect your sanctified diagnoses!". Cartoon by Emil Kraepelin, "Bierzeitung", Heidelberg 1896

Perceptions need stimuli to be created. A perception without a stimulus is called hallucination. Much like the difference between illusion and hallucination, Kraepelin wanted to distinguish between a false memory and memories of something that did not really happen, which he called "Erinnerkungsfälschung". Unfortunately, both German terms translate to the same English term.

A false memory is a condition where a person remembers something that did not occur or where the memory does not closely match the occurrence.

Remembering events that did not occur


Using suggestion and hypnosis, it is possible to make people believe they experienced something, when they did not. Such phenomena also occur spontaneously, for example in a stressful situation, or when someone is not sleeping enough.

Lost in the mall


To prove the existence of false memories, an experiment was conducted: People were given small stories of supposed relatives who told how these people were lost in a shopping mall, at age five or six, and how they had to be "rescued" by an adult. The experiment was done with 24 people. Afterwards, six people said that they remembered the event, even though it had never happened.[4]

Mandela effect


False memories can sometimes be shared by multiple people. This is sometimes called the Mandela effect.[5][6] Examples include memories of the Berenstain Bears' name being spelled Berenstein,[7][8] and of the existence of a 1990s movie entitled Shazaam starring comedian Sinbad as a genie.

The effect is named after South African anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela after people believed he died in prison in the 1980s (he actually died in 2013, after having served as President of South Africa from 1994-99), which she claimed was shared by "perhaps thousands" of other people.[9][10][11]


Sometimes, people are accused of a crime, and often part of the evidence consists of facts other people remember. It is a problem to convict someone of a crime, based only on such evidence. In the case of sexual abuse or of child abuse these memories will usually be bad ones, and the brain will have changed them, as a measure of protection. Before a conviction is done, the court needs to make sure that the conviction does not happen based on the recollection of only one person, as recovering the "facts" behind the memories can be difficult.

Other websites



  1. Kraepelin, Emil (1886). Ueber Erinnerungsfälschungen. Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten. Vol. 17. Berlin: August Hirschwald. pp. 830–843.
  2. Kraepelin, Emil (1886). Ueber Erinnerungsfälschungen. Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten. Vol. 18. Berlin: August Hirschwald. pp. 199–239.
  3. Kraepelin, Emil (1887). Ueber Erinnerungsfälschungen. Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten. Vol. 18. Berlin: August Hirschwald. pp. 395–436.
  4. Elizabeth Loftus: Creating False Memories. Scientific American, September 1997, Vol 277 #3, pp 70-75 (copy)
  5. "The movie that doesn't exist and the Redditors who think it does". www.newstatesman.com. 21 December 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  6. "Collective representation elicit widespread individual false memories (PDF Download Available)". ResearchGate. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  7. "The Mandela Effect". Snopes.com. 24 July 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  8. "Are you living in an alternate reality? Welcome to the wacky world of the 'Mandela Effect'". The Telegraph. 20 September 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  9. "Two cognitive psychologists explain the mystery of the 'Mandela effect'". The Independent. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  10. "How a Wild Theory About Nelson Mandela Proves the Existence of Parallel Universes". Big Think. 27 December 2017. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  11. "The Mandela Effect: An Academic Explanation". Top Secret Writers. 29 November 2017. Archived from the original on 3 October 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2018.