Alternate Memories and Parallel Universes: The Psychology Behind False Memories

Remember when you were a kid and you read (and maybe even watched, if you had PBS) that show about the family of bears? The sister and brother bear (which were seriously their names: ‘brother’ and ‘sister’) would learn important life lessons in the span of eleven something minutes *(bonus fun fact: Michael Cera was the voice of brother bear)*.

Now… What were the names of those bears…? Here’s where the trouble starts. I, and most of my generation on reddit, swear it was spelled Berenst*e*in Bears, but… shock and horror… it’s actually spelt Berenst*a*in Bears. Some people are so adamant that it used to be spelt with an ‘e’ they’ve actually written to the publishers, searched through old boxes in the basement of their childhood homes, and even claimed it’s proof of a parallel universe.


Though claiming this is proof of a glitch in the matrix may be a bit far fetched, this public outrage over a false memory is actually not unique. There’s actually even a term for it, the Mandela Effect. This is due to another message board that blew up full of people who swear they remember Nelson Mandela dying prior to his actual 2013 demise. People have gone so far as to attempt to apply quantum physics to these conundrums and claim this is proof a parallel universe. Here is one gem from the message boards:

“At some point between the years 1986 and 2011, someone traveled back in time and inadvertently altered the timeline of human history so that the Berenstein Bears somehow became the Berenstain Bears, this is why everyone remembers the name incorrectly; it was Berenstein when we were kids, but at some point when we weren’t paying attention, someone went back in time and rippled our life experience ever so slightly.”

Another example of one of these ‘false memories’ has to do with King Henry the 8th, and specifically, what he ate. People have a vivid memory of a portrait of the King holding a turkey leg, a portrait that can now not be found anywhere. And it’s not just crazy Reddit people, Matt Groening even remembers this (hence this episode: as well as a ton of artists (seriously, try to google it). So where did this memory come from if the painting never existed?

Okay, okay, as much as I love conspiracy theories, it’s time to get down to the real science of this. Henry L. Roediger III is a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis human learning and memory, and more specifically, false memories. He helped popularize the Deese–Roediger–McDermott paradigm procedure, which everyone has probably done at some point in their life. “The procedure typically involves the oral presentation of a list of related words (e.g. bed, rest, awake, tired, dream, wake, snooze, blanket, doze, slumber, snore, nap, peace, yawn, drowsy) and then requires the subject to remember as many words from the list as possible. Typical results show that subjects recall a related but nonpresented word (e.g. sleep), known as a ‘lure’, with the same frequency as other presented words.” (Roediger et al, 1995). Roediger went a step further by asking the participant: do you feel like you heard ‘sleep’, or are you sure you heard ‘sleep’? Most of them claimed they were certain. Roediger also suggested that a persons social environment can also effect the strength of false memories, which they deemed: social contagion of memory (here is the article here:’s/Roediger%20et%20al%20(2001)_PBR.pdf)

A vice reporter actually contacted Dr. Roediger about the Berenst*a*in and his explanation actually made perfect sense.

I’m not sure that misremembering one letter in a long name is a major league false memory. My guess is that in this case that “stein” is remembered because it is a common ending of many names—Einstein, Frankenstein, Goldstein, etc.”

So, most of use when reading the books just assumed it was like Einstein and pronounced it that way. Further more the TV shows intro also makes it sound like ‘stein’. We all coincidentally (or not so coincidentally, as the human brain is designed to make quick decisions based on previous patterns) pronounced it the same way, making us remember it falsely, and then we got on Reddit, or talked to other family members and ‘social contagion of memory’ fortified our belief even further.

However, I really have no explanation for Henry the 8th, that clearly was the Doctor.

If you’re still interested check out this DNews video!


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