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Deepasri Prasad, Wilma A. Bainbridge; The Visual Mandela Effect: Evidence for specific shared false memories in popular iconography. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2121. https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.21.9.2121.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
The Visual Mandela Effect (VME) is an internet phenomenon describing shared and consistent false memories for specific images. For example, the mascot of the game Monopoly is falsely remembered as wearing a monocle although he never has. However, it has not been empirically tested whether certain images trigger the same false memory across observers. In this study, we characterize VME for images of highly familiar cultural icons. One hundred participants were presented with 40 images, each with three different variations: the original image and two manipulated versions. Manipulations included feature addition or subtraction, color changes, and orientation changes; some manipulations were previously identified in the “wild” as inducing VME. Participants were asked to choose the real version of images using their prior knowledge and rate their confidence in their choice and familiarity with the image concept. We identified seven images in which a specific manipulated image was chosen significantly more often than the correct or alternative manipulation. These choices were highly consistent across participants and, despite the low accuracy, participants rated their confidence and familiarity as medium to high. To determine what features of these images were important when making these real/fake judgments, we conducted a follow-up experiment using BubbleView (N=61), a method analogous to eye-tracking where mouse clicks imitate foveation by unblurring sections of a blurred image. Subjects who made erroneous judgments investigated the manipulated areas less than those who made correct judgments, suggesting that VME is driven in part by a lack of attention towards these features. These results demonstrate that there are certain images for which people consistently make the same false memory errors, despite only having seen the veridical image. A closer examination of the nature of these errors might inform us about shared processes in how we represent or schematize information for memory.
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