False memories are distorted and/or untrue recollections of an event that may contain some trace elements of fact or that turn out to be entirely fabricated. According to Frederick, the concept of false memories is "one of the several" potential explanations for the Mandela effect.
"Although the idea of false memories makes some people uncomfortable, memory mistakes are pretty standard," Frederick tells mbg. "Your memory does not work like a camera by cataloging images, statements, and events in their purest forms. Your personal bias and emotions can influence your memories."
This false memory phenomenon was explored in a 2017 study performed by psychologists Enmanuelle Pardilla-Delgado, Ph.D., and Jessica D. Payne, Ph.D., at the University of Notre Dame. The researchers introduced false memories via the DRM task paradigm (a protocol that lists semantically related words). Interestingly, they found that the more words listed, the more likely false memories were to occur.
"One particularly important factor to keep in mind for future experiments is that increasing the number of semantically related words in each list boosts the false memory effect, i.e., in order to increase the probability of false recall/recognition, it is paramount that experimenters present as many words as possible (for each list) during encoding," the authors concluded in their paper.
While the study specifically documents the likelihood of false memory development as a result of semantically related words, it parallels the false memories of real events in that, the more detailed someone can recall an event, even if it didn't take place, the more likely someone is to believe it and, as a result, commit it to memory as fact.