Berenstæin Bears: an analysis of the Mandela Effect



Opinion Columnist Emerson Slomka discusses the idea of the Mandela Effect, the phenomenon used to describe false memories.


Anyone who grew up between the 1980s and today will likely remember a series of books (and later a TV show) about a wholesome family of bears, consisting of Mama, Papa, Sister and Brother as their adventures lead them to learn important lessons about life. What was that show called again? Chances are, the Berenstein Bears comes to mind. However, a quick visit to the kids section of your local library will reveal that this isn’t the case. In actuality, this series is called the BerenSTAIN bears, named after its creators, Stan and Jan Berenstain. This seems like a simple misunderstanding or false memory; nothing to pay any mind to, right? The problem is, the internet nearly unanimously agrees. Why would so many people share the same false memory?

Many people subscribe to the belief that Nelson Mandela died while serving time in prison. Perhaps you are under the impression that the United States consists of 51 states, or that chartreuse is a variant of magenta. However, all three of these beliefs are objectively wrong: Nelson Mandela survived his time in prison but unfortunately died in 2013; the United States consists of an even 50 states and chartreuse is a bright yellow-green, named after the French liqueur of the same name. 

Perhaps this would be less alarming if not for the sheer number of people who wholeheartedly insist that these facts are and always have been a reality. But how can this phenomenon be explained when half (or even the majority) of people experience these? Coined in 2010 by blogger Fiona Broome, the term “Mandela Effect” has been used to describe false memories. The exact cause of the Mandela Effect is unknown, but there are a variety of theories. One of the most fantastical, yet most popular theories is that the Mandela Effect is direct evidence of the existence of alternate dimensions and that a false memory is created when we shift dimensions. For example, a believer in this theory may insist that she was born in a dimension in which the queen in Disney’s Snow White asks, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” but experienced a dimensional shift, leading her to be transported to a dimension identical to the first, but with minor differences– one of which being the fact that the phrase actually begins with “Magic mirror on the wall,” (an actual example of the Mandela Effect). 

However, the more likely solution to the enigmatic Mandela Effect is that our minds all work similarly and that “unusual information” may be mentally “corrected.” For example, it would make perfect sense for Nelson Mandela to have died in prison, given the cruel and neglectful treatment he faced. Berenstein is a far more common surname than Berenstain. “Perfect numbers” seem too perfect and precise, so we may add an extra state to make the number feel more realistic, or maybe we simply mistake Puerto Rico for a state (a common misconception). Other examples of the Mandela Effect, such as the false memory of chartreuse’s color, are not explained as of now, and people fascinated by the Mandela Effect are eagerly searching for an answer. 

The Mandela Effect is a great example of how flawed the human brain can be. The brain attempts to assimilate information, trying to connect it to already-known information, often resulting in perception errors. When our brain only knows a few fragments of a fact, it will naturally fill in what it doesn’t know, often without us even realizing it. Often when we hear of someone else’s false memory, it causes us to second-guess our own memory, only adding to the phenomenon. While we can’t necessarily disprove the multiverse theory and its connection to the Berenstain Bears, it’s more likely that we’re simply trying to come up with an explanation for our fallible memory, one that’s far more fun to explore. 

While we may never truly know if the Mandela Effect is a result of a glitch in the Matrix or a glitch in our memory, it’s important to realize that the human mind is incredibly flawed, despite how powerful it can be.