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Nostalgia

Dr. Simon Moss

Overview

Throughout the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, nostalgia was regarded as an undesirable state. Joannes Hofer (1968, cited by Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt, & Cordaro, 2010) coined the term to describe a state that was experienced by Swiss mercenaries, fighting for European monarchs. The state was perceived as a neurological disorder, representing homesickness. Because this state was assumed to coincide with homesickness, nostalgia was perceived as an adverse condition. Since the 1900s, however, nostalgia has been regarded as a sentimental longing of the past (see Davis, 1979). Nevertheless, even during this century, nostalgia was sometimes regarded as a state that stifles growth, because individuals cannot relinquish the past (e.g., Peters, 1985).

Nostalgic memories and experiences, however, elicit a series of benefits. As Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, and Routledge (2006) showed, nostalgia instils a sense of social connection. Furthermore, nostalgia also evokes positive affective states and improves self esteem (see Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt, & Cordaro, 2010& Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, & Routledge, 2006).

Nevertheless, distinct forms of nostalgia can be differentiated, each of which might elicit different consequences. Stern (1992), for example, distinguished historical nostalgia, in which a distant past is perceived as preferable to the present, and personal nostalgia, which refers to wistful memories of the past. Most research now is confined to the benefits of personal nostalgia (e.g., Batcho, 1998).

Benefits of nostalgia

Interestingly, after individuals recall a nostalgic experience--an event in the past that is regarded as meaningful, sentimental, often with a tinge of loss about some family member, romantic partner, possessions, pets, friends, music, or school with an awareness that history is irreversible (Batcho, DaRin, Nave, & Yaworsky, 2008& Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, & Routledge, 2006)?-they feel more trusting and confident (Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, & Routledge, 2006). Nostalgic experiences usually include both desirable and undesirable facets, typically involving another person. These experiences create vivid images, which incite positive feelings, in turn fostering a sense of trust and confidence. In particular, individuals feel less worried they might be rejected or excluded by their colleagues.

Self-esteem and resilience

After people reminisce about nostalgic events, their attitudes or perceptions of themselves improves. They become more aware of their desirable qualities (Vess, Arndt, Routledge, Sedikides, & Wildschut, 2012). Similarly, nostalgia improves self-esteem (Wildschut et al., 2006). Indeed, nostalgia is more likely to translate to these benefits than are reflections about other past events or positive future events. Arguably, when individuals immerse themselves in emotional reveries, desirable features of their lives feel more vivid and even more immediate in time. Consequently, individuals become more inclined to perceive themselves positively& their doubts about themselves diminish, whereas their strengths seem to be prominent in their minds.

For example, in one study, conducted by Vess, Arndt, Routledge, Sedikides, and Wildschut (2012), some participants were instructed to reflect upon a nostalgic event in their lives. In the control condition, participants were encouraged to reflect upon a positive event that could transpire in the future. In addition, all participants completed another task in which a series of traits or adjectives were presented. The task of these individuals was to press one of two buttons, as rapidly as possible, to indicate whether each adjective describes their personality accurately.

Relative to the other participants, individuals who had reflected upon a nostalgic event responded more rapidly to positive adjectives. These findings imply that nostalgia increases the extent to which individuals are aware of their desirable traits, analogous to self-esteem. Furthermore, as a subsequent study showed, after individuals reflect upon a nostalgic event, they are more likely to attribute their failures on some task to limitations in their own ability. They are not as inclined to blame other people or events, indicating that nostalgia diminishes the likelihood of defensive reactions.

Optimism

Moments of nostalgia tend to foster optimism (Cheung, Wildschut, Sedikides, Hepper, Arndt, & Vingerhoets, 2013). In particular, nostalgia elicits a sense of social connection& that is, nostalgia increases the salience of past connections. These connections increase the likelihood that people feel worthy, boosting self-esteem, consistent with the sociometer hypothesis. This self-esteem then promotes optimism.

In one study, for example, some participants were encouraged to remember a time in which they felt nostalgic. Other participants, in contrast, were instructed to remember an ordinary time. Next, they were granted five minutes to write about this time. Finally, participants were asked to indicate the degree to which their memories of this event evoke feelings of optimism, such as a willingness to pursue new challenges as well as a feeling of hope and possibility. Nostalgic memories promoted optimism.

Subsequent studies extended this finding. For example, the same pattern of results was observed when nostalgic or ordinary songs were played to manipulate nostalgia. Furthermore, feeling connected to other people and self-esteem mediated these relationships.

Charity

After feelings of nostalgia are evoked, people become more inclined to donate time and money to charity. That is, these feelings, in essence, highlight the meaning or significance of relationships in the past. Individuals become more attuned to the enduring effect of specific friendships. This awareness underscores the importance of relationships to the future. Consequently, when people feel nostalgic, they become motivated to accommodate the needs of other individuals and, therefore, establish special relationships. To decipher these needs, people become more empathic. They experience the emotions of other individuals, translating to feelings of compassion and a motivation to help.

Zhou, Wildschut, Sedikides, Shi, and Feng (2012) showed that feelings of nostalgia do indeed foster empathy and charitable behavior. In the first study, some participants were instructed to reflect upon an event that induced feelings of nostalgia. Other participants, in the control condition, reflected upon a daily occurrence. Next, they read about a fictitious charity and were asked to estimate the time or money they would be willing to donate to this organization. Feelings of nostalgia increased the intention of participants to donate money and time to this charity.

The next study was the same, except participants were also asked to indicate the extent to which they feel sympathetic, compassionate, softhearted, and tender--to reflect empathy--as well as the degree to which they feel distressed, upset, perturbed, troubled--to reflect personal distress. Empathy, but not distress, mediated the association between nostalgia and charitable behavior. Another study showed that nostalgia also encouraged charitable behavior rather than merely charitable intentions.

In the final study, the manipulation of nostalgia was embedded within the advertisement. For example, to evoke nostalgia, the headline included the title ?Those were the days: Restoring the past for Children in Wenchuan? rather than ?Now is the time: Build the future for children in Wenchuan?. Furthermore, the advertisement referred to past times, such as ?a time like no other?. These references to nostalgic times also fostered charitable behavior.

Creativity

Nostalgia has also been shown to enhance creativity (van Tilburg, Sedikides, & Wildschut, 2015). In one study, for example, participants were prompted to contemplate either a nostalgic or ordinary event in their lives. Next, participants were instructed to write a story about a particular topic. If these individuals had reflected on a nostalgic event, instead of an ordinary event, their stories were judged as more novel, original, and creative by independent evaluators. Subsequent studies showed this effect of nostalgia was mediated by the degree to which people feel open to experience, inventive, curious, and imaginative.

When individuals experience nostalgia, they become more aware of facets of themselves that endure. So, they do not feel as trapped in their immediate surroundings. Consequently, individuals are more willing to question the status quo and consider alternative practices, manifesting as creativity.

Feelings of warmth

As Zhou, Wildschut, Sedikides, Chen, and Vingerhoets (2012) showed, nostalgic memories are often evoked when people feel cold. These nostalgic memories tend to evoke a sense of warmth.

In particular, during their childhood, individuals often receive the warm embrace of a parent or another key figure. They will, therefore, learn to associate close relationships with feelings of warmth. If cold, they may attempt to approach close friends or families. If these friends or family are not available, they may instead evoke memories of past and ongoing friends and family. These memories may prime feelings of warmth. Consequently, memories of past friends, family, or other objects of attachment should be elicited by cold sensations and produce warm sensations.

Zhou, Wildschut, Sedikides, Chen, and Vingerhoets (2012) conducted a series of studies that verify these possibilities. The first study, for example, showed that daily reports of nostalgia were inversely related to the ambient temperature that day. In the second study, participants completed questionnaires in a room that was set to 20, 24, or 28 degrees: 24 degrees is often considered the most comfortable temperature for humans. In this room, participants indicated the degree to which they feel nostalgic for past music, friends, locations, lovers, TV shows or movies, pets, and family houses. Relative to the other temperatures, a temperature of 20 degrees evoked nostalgia.

During the third study, participants rated the degree to which various songs evoked both feelings of nostalgia and warmth. Songs that evoked nostalgia also tended to elicit feelings of warmth. During the fourth study, participants were encouraged to reflect upon a nostalgic event or an ordinary event. After reflecting upon a nostalgic event, participants were more likely to overestimate the room temperature. As the final study showed, after individuals reflect upon a nostalgic event, they can sustain their hand in cold water over a longer period.

Feelings of meaning in response to boredom

According to van Tilburg, Igou, and Sedikides (2013), nostalgia is an adaptive response to boredom and tends to foster a sense of meaning. Specifically, according to these researchers, individuals often experience a state of boredom. Boredom is a distinct and unpleasant emotion that entails feeling restless and unchallenged as well as a limited sense of purpose and meaning, sometimes prompting unsuitable behaviors, such as aggression. Yet this state evolved to inspire individuals to seek meaningful and enjoyable pursuits. To promote this sense of meaning, individuals sometimes become nostalgic, in which they reminisce about past connections and relationships. These reflections highlight how their behaviors are embedded within a social context and, therefore, affect the lives of other people, instilling a sense of meaning and purpose.

van Tilburg, Igou, and Sedikides (2013) conducted a series of studies that attest to these possibilities. The first set of studies showed that moments of boredom often prompt feelings of nostalgia, provided that individuals are prompted to retrieve memories of the past. That is, in these studies, some but not participants completed a task that was designed to be tedious and boring. These participants were then prompted to write about a memory of their past. Later, they were asked to indicate the degree to which this memory evoked feelings of nostalgia. If participants had completed a boring task, they were subsequently more inclined to retrieve a nostalgic memory. Admittedly, in these studies, boredom promoted nostalgia when participants were prompted to retrieve a memory. Without this prompt, boredom may not always promote nostalgia.

The next set of studies showed that a search for meaning mediated this association between boredom and nostalgia. That is, people who felt bored were especially inclined to acknowledge they wanted to undertake a task that was meaningful, purposeful, and significant, and this search for meaning was positively associated with the retrieval of nostalgic memories. As these results show, when bored, people are especially inclined to seek meaning, and this inclination fosters nostalgia.

The final study showed that such nostalgia does indeed restore meaning. That is, people who completed a boring task and then retrieved nostalgic memories were, subsequently, especially likely to endorse items like "This memory gives me a sense of meaning" and even "My life has a clear sense of purpose".

Self-continuity

Sometimes, individuals feel dissociated from their past and future, called self-discontinuity. For example, they might perceive themselves in the past as, in essence, a different person altogether. On other occasions, people might feel more connected to their past or future, called self-continuity. They do not feel their life has been disjointed. As Sedikides, Wildschut, Routledge, and Arndt (2015) showed, nostalgia diminishes self-discontinuity and fosters self-continuity.

Several mechanisms can explain how nostalgia promotes self-continuity. First, nostalgic memories blend the notion of a remote time with concrete, tangible details. This remote time seems also as vivid as the present time. Consequently, individuals sense an alignment between a remote time and the present time, indicative of self-continuity.

Second, nostalgia activates memories of support. When supported, individuals feel more inspired to pursue enduring aspirations. Their life seems more meaningful. Their past, present, and future all seem to revolve around the same overarching pursuit, also instilling a sense of self-continuity.

Third, nostalgia might activate a sequence of memories that each relate to distinct times but a common theme. Nostalgia may thus enable people to generate a cohesive narrative about their lives.

Sedikides, Wildschut, Routledge, and Arndt (2015) conducted a series of studies that show how nostalgia overcomes self-discontinuity and promotes self-continuity. To illustrate, as one study showed, participants who had experienced many key transitions in their life, such as divorce, were more inclined to engage in nostalgia--consistent with the notion that nostalgia may have partly evolved to overcome this sense of discontinuity and to generate a cohesive narrative. In addition, as another study showed, participants who invoked a nostalgic event were more likely to experience self-continuity, endorsing items like "I feel connected with my past".

Correlates of nostalgia

As Batcho (1998) showed, individuals who report frequent experiences of nostalgia also perceive themselves as more emotional. That is, their emotions tend to be more intense. In addition, they prefer activities with other people, consistent with the possibility that nostalgia fosters a sense of social connection. Finally, individuals who often experience nostalgia also experience a need for achievement.

Mechanisms that underpin the effects of nostalgia

An indirect strategy to reinforce social connections

Nostalgia is sometimes conceptualized as a process that instills a sense of social connection. That is, after individuals experience a state of nostalgia, their need to belong is satisfied. They feel their sense of social connection is reinforced. As a consequence, the benefits of these connections are evoked& loneliness diminishes and wellbeing improves.

In particular, when their relationships with other people or groups deteriorate, individuals feel the need to restore these connections. Sometimes, they engage in direct strategies (cf., Gardner, Pickett, & Knowles, 2005), such as establishing other relationships or repairing damaged friendships. Alternatively, they engaged in indirect strategies (cf., Gardner, Pickett, & Knowles, 2005), forming representations of hypothetical relationships.

To illustrate an indirect strategy, in one study, some participants were asked to write about rejection. Other participants were asked to write about acceptance. Next, participants completed a lexical decision task, in which they were asked to decide whether or not strings of letters were legitimate words. This task was intended to ascertain the accessibility of words that relate to membership of groups. Compared to the other participants, the individuals who wrote about rejection rapidly recognized words that relate to membership of groups. Thus, when the deterioration of relationships is salient, individuals strive to direct their attention to representations of solid connections (Knowles & Gardner, 2008).

According to Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, and Routledge (2006), nostalgia might also represent an indirect strategy to reinforce social relationships. That is, nostalgia might increase the accessibility of memories and other representations of positive connections (see Baldwin, Keelan, Fehr, Enns, & Koh-Rangarajoo, 1996).

Consistent with this proposition, Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, and Routledge (2006) asked participants to describe the memories that nostalgic experiences evoke. Most of these narratives alluded to social contexts, emphasizing close and positive relationships with other people. Furthermore, these researchers showed that loneliness was positively associated with these nostalgic memories of close relationships& this finding suggests that nostalgia might curb the social isolation that corresponds to loneliness. Finally, this research showed that nostalgic memories promoted a sense of social connection (see also Zhou, Sedikides, Wildschut, & Gao, 2008).

Identity formation

According to Batcho, DaRin, Nave, and Yaworsky (2008), nostalgia might facilitate the formation of self identity (for a similar perspective, see Hertz, 1990). In particular, throughout their lives, individuals need to develop their perception of themselves: their values, skills, roles, and inclinations, for example. To develop this identity, individuals need to define themselves in reference to other people as well as unearth a sense of continuity or stability. Nostalgia might facilitate both of these needs.

To illustrate, as Batcho, DaRin, Nave, and Yaworsky (2008) emphasized, song lyrics that seem nostalgic comprise these two facets. Lyrics might refer to how friends, partners, or family are germane to identity. Other lyrics might refer to how individuals maintain their values or practices despite some upheaval or difficulty. Consistent with this perspective, when individuals report they are striving to understand or define their identity, they are more likely to perceive song lyrics as nostalgic, evoking wistful memories of their past (Batcho, DaRin, Nave, & Yaworsky, 2008).

Specifically, in this study, participants completed measures that assess the degree to which they experience nostalgia--both wistful memories of the past, called personal nostalgia, or a sense the past was preferable to the present, called historical nostalgia. Next, they completed a measure that assesses the degree to which they are exploring their identity, called the Ego Identity Process Questionnaire. Some of the questions assessed the extent to which individuals have explored other political orientations, religions, preferences for partners, preferences for friends, and so forth. Other questions assess the degree to which individuals feel committed to their existing beliefs and attitudes instead. Furthermore, identity style--which represents the extent to which individuals consider the perspective of other people or focus on their own thoughts when they develop their identity.

Next, participants read various sets of lyrics about childhood. Some of the lyrics referred to a wistful sense of missing some facet of childhood. Furthermore, some of the lyrics referred to a sense of social connection. Finally, some of the lyrics referred to a sense of identity. Participants evaluated the extent to which they felt happy, sad, nostalgic and meaningful when they read the lyrics. They also specified whether they identified with the lyrics and liked these words.

Interestingly, individuals who were exploring their identity were more likely to perceive these lyrics as nostalgic. Furthermore, participants who reported elevated levels of wistful nostalgia were more inclined to like lyrics that referred to social connections and more likely to consider the perspectives of other people when developing their identity. These findings align with the proposition that establishing social connections to clarify personal identity might represent a key function of nostalgia.

Similarly, Routledge, Arndt, Sedikides, and Wildschut (2008) also showed that nostalgia imbues life with a sense of meaning and continuity (see Terror management theory). That is, usually, after individuals contemplate their mortality, life seems meaningless. Nevertheless, nostalgic reflections diminish this effect. Presumably, these nostalgic memories highlight meaningful events, instilling an enduring sense of purpose.

Awareness of intrinsic qualities

Sometimes, individuals feel aware of their true self--their actual values, interests, motivations, and tendencies. In this state, they feel authentic. Their life seems more meaningful. Interestingly, as Baldwin, Biernat, and Landau (2015) showed, after people experience moments of nostalgia, they become more aware of these intrinsic qualities.

Arguably, when people evoke nostalgic memories, they are more attuned to the goals, values, interests, passions, and motives they tend to demonstrate. They become more aware of their true self.

For example, in one study, participants were instructed to write about a past memory in detail. Next, they were asked to indicate the degree to which the memory evokes nostalgic, wistful, and sentimental feelings as well as a longing for the past. Then, participants completed a measure of authenticity, epitomized by items like "For better or for worse, I am aware of who I truly am". Finally, they completed questions that gauge the degree to which they feel the need to seek extrinsic rewards, such as money, approval, and recognition, including "I work hard at things because of the social approval it provides". Nostalgia was positively associated with feelings of inauthenticity and negatively associated with motivations to seek extrinsic rewards.

Subsequent studies replicated and extended this finding. In Study 2, participants were instructed to write about a nostalgic memory--an events that evokes feelings of nostalgia--or an ordinary memory. Nostalgic memories were perceived as more authentic than other memories. In Study 3, after writing about a nostalgic or ordinary memory, some participants were asked to write about who they really are: their goals, aspirations, and descriptions of themselves. Other participants were asked to write about who their lifestyle instead. If nostalgic memories had been evoked, participants wrote more words about who they really are instead of their lifestyle. Furthermore, in Study 5, if participants were asked to contemplate times in which they could not express their true self, they were more likely to experience nostalgic feelings, perhaps to compensate. Finally, one study showed that participants who often experience nostalgia are more likely to express their true self, as epitomized by items like "I feel like I am free to decide for myself how to live my life".

Vivid imagery

According to Leboe and Ansons (2006), nostalgic memories tend to be vivid. Because these images are vivid, they are processed fluently. This fluency has been shown to bias memories (see process fluency): That is, the memories are, sometimes incorrectly, perceived as positive and favorable.

To assess this proposition, in one study conducted by Leboe and Ansons (2006), participants were asked to form images of various nouns, such as "cat". Later, these nouns as well as other nouns were then presented in sequence, alongside a pleasant word, like "pretty", or an unpleasant word, like "murder". Participants later had to decide whether these nouns had been paired with pleasant or unpleasant words. If these nouns had earlier been imagined vividly, participants would often erroneously assume the item had coincided with a pleasant word. The vivid imagery seemed to bias associations with the noun.

Factors that moderate the benefits of nostalgia

Attachment style

Nostalgia tends to evoke a sense of social connection. This benefit of nostalgia, however, is not as pronounced in individuals who report an avoidant attachment. In particular, avoidant attachment represents an aversion towards intimacy and closeness in relationships, especially during stressful contexts (see Attachment theory). According to Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt, and Cordaro (2010), this style is associated with an assumption that other individuals will be unsupportive and unresponsive. In people who report avoidant attachment, nostalgia will evoke memories of close relationships, eliciting a sense of discomfort and distrust. This distrust then translates to a sense of social exclusion rather than connection.

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt, and Cordaro (2010), participants first completed a measure of attachment style: the Revised Experiences in Close Relationships Scale. Next, participants specified the contexts in which they tend to experience nostalgia. Some, but not all, the answers revolved around loneliness. However, individuals who reported an avoidant attachment were less likely to allude to loneliness.

In the next study, participants completed the measure of attachment style, a comprehensive measure of loneliness, as well as some items that gauge the frequency with which they experience nostalgic states. If individuals experienced loneliness--in particular, a feeling of isolation from people who really care--nostalgia was more likely to be evoked. This relationship, however, dissipated in participants who report elevated levels of avoidance attachment (Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt, & Cordaro, 2010).

In the third study, some participants received contrived feedback, predicting they are likely to maintain few friendships later in life, intended to compromise the perceived stability of their relationships (cf., Twenge, Baumeister, Tice, & Stucke, 2001). Other participants did not receive this upsetting feedback. Next, participants answered questions that determine the extent to which they experience nostalgic feelings right now. An immediate sense of social exclusion evoked feelings of nostalgia, but only if avoidant attachment was sufficiently low (Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt, & Cordaro, 2010).

During the final two studies, some participants reflected upon a nostalgic event& other participants did not reflect upon a nostalgic event. Subsequently, they completed measures of social connection, epitomized by items like "Thinking about this event makes me feel loved". They also completed measures of self esteem and affect in one study and perceived social competence--that is, their perceived capacity to help upset people--in another study. Nostalgia enhanced feelings of social connection, social competence, self esteem, and positive affect, without significantly affecting negative affect. The association between nostalgia and social connection or social competence, however, diminished as avoidant attachment increased (Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt, & Cordaro, 2010).

Identity continuity

Some people experience a sense of continuity with the past. They may, for example, have maintained the same friends over many years. After they move to another nation, they may still feel very connected to their life back home.

As Iyer and Jetten (2011) showed, when individuals experience this sense of continuity with the past, nostalgia tends to be beneficial. Nostalgic memories, in one sense, underscore all the resources--the friends, capabilities, and skills, for example--that individuals have accrued. They feel capable and confident as a consequence (cf., conservation of resource theory and the self expansion model).

In contrast, when individuals do not experience this continuity with the past, nostalgia undermines confidence and progress. Nostalgic memories may highlight the resources that individuals have foregone over time.

Iyer and Jetten (2011) conducted studies that validate these arguments. In the first study, the participants completed questionnaire two months before they began university as well as two months and then six months after they began. Two months after they began, for example, they answered a question that gauges their sense of nostalgia with their home life (ie, "I am feeling quite nostalgic about life back home") and continuity of identity with home life (e.g., "Even though I am now at university, I have stayed a member of the same groups I belonged to back home"). Finally, they completed questions that assess whether they had coped well at university both two months and six months after beginning.

Overall, when individuals felt a sense of continuity with their home life, nostalgia was positively associated with their capacity to cope. In contrast, when individuals did not experience this continuity, nostalgia was negatively associated with this capacity to cope.

The second study was similar except nostalgia and identity continuity was manipulated. That is, to evoke nostalgia, some students were asked to reflect upon the qualities of their friends and family back home they had appreciated. Other students reflected upon their hobbies instead?-an exercise that is positive but does not evoke nostalgia. Furthermore, to elicit a sense of continuity with the past, participants read excerpts written by previous students, highlighting their connection with their home life and the sense they had not changed as a person. To elicit a sense of discontinuity, participants read excepts that highlights how other students feel disconnected from their home life and feel they are a different person now.

Again, if individuals expected to feel a sense of continuity with their home life, nostalgia was positively associated with the capacity to cope. Furthermore, nostalgia increased the likelihood that students expected to explore opportunities at university. In contrast, when individuals did not expect this continuity, nostalgia was negatively associated with this capacity to cope and this motivation to explore.

Need to belong

The extent to which individuals experience a need to belong has been shown to increase a yearning for nostalgia. In a series of studies, conducted by Loveland, Smeesters, and Mandel (2010), the need to belong was manipulated. In one study, for example, participants were socially excluded while playing a game with other people over computer. In another study, participants were exposed to an anecdote that highlights the importance of relationships, evoking an interdependent self construal. Next, their need to belong was assessed: They completed a word matching task and the need to belong scale. Finally, they were asked to rate various products, some of which were popular in the past and, thus, regarded as nostalgic. In each study, when individuals experienced a need to belong, they were more inclined to prefer the nostalgic brands.

According to Loveland, Smeesters, and Mandel (2010), nostalgia enables individuals to reconnect to past networks and relationships. Hence, when individuals experience a need to belong, nostalgia might partly fulfill this need.

Habitual worriers

According to Verplanken (2012), nostalgia may exacerbate some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression in habitual worriers. That is, nostalgia highlights pure and happy occasions in the past--pure and happy occasions that have now vanished--and is, therefore, a bittersweet emotion. Similarly, nostalgia shows that at least one facet of life has deteriorated in time. Habitual worriers may ruminate over this deterioration, manifesting as anxiety and depression.

To assess these arguments, in the study that was reported by Verplanken (2012), participants were instructed to reflect upon either a nostalgic memory or an everyday event. Before and after this reflection, they completed the PANAS to gauge their mood. They also completed a measure of habitual worrying, epitomized by items like "Having...worrying thoughts is something...I do automatically". Finally, to gauge symptoms of anxiety and depression, participants completed the HADS.

On average, even in habitual worriers, the nostalgic memories evoked a positive mood. However, in these habitual worriers, memories of nostalgic events, relative to memories of everyday events, also evoked symptoms of anxiety and depression. According to Verplanken (2012), this problem might dissipate if nostalgic reflections were coupled with mindfulness.

Causes of nostalgia

Regulatory mode

Regulatory mode refers to how people like to pursue goals. Some people compare alternatives courses of action and evaluate themselves, their actions, and other people carefully, called an assessment mode. Other people rapidly progress from one goal to another goal, called a locomotion mode. As Pierro, Pica, Klein, Kruglanski, and Higgins (2013) showed, an assessment, in contrast to a locomotion mode, is associated with nostalgia.

In the first study, participants completed a measure of regulatory mode. That is, the questions assessed the degree to which participants epitomize an assessment mode, such as "I spend a great deal of time taking inventory of my positive and negative characteristics", and the degree to which participants epitomize a locomotion mode, such as "By the time I accomplish a task, I already have the next one in mind". In addition, they completed several scales that ascertain whether participants are prone to nostalgia as well as the questions that gauge the extent to which people contemplate the past, present, and future. An assessment mode was positively associated with nostalgia and contemplations of the past, whereas a locomotion mode was negatively associated with nostalgia and contemplations of the past.

In the second study, regulatory mode was manipulated. That is, participants imagined a time in which they demonstrated the qualities that characterize either an assessment mode or locomotion mode. An assessment mode was again more likely to evoke feelings of nostalgia.

Presumably, when people adopt a locomotion mode, they orient their attention to future possibilities. They are not as likely to reflect upon the past, diminishing the likelihood of nostalgia. In addition, nostalgia may enable people who adopt an assessment mode to cope with regret and the other negative emotions that often coincide with this regulatory mode.

Measures of nostalgia

Wildschut, Sedikides, Routledge, Arndt, and Cordaro (2010) developed two items to assess the extent to which individuals generally experience nostalgic states. One question was "Generally speaking, how often do you bring to mind nostalgic experiences". The response options ranged from very rarely to very frequently. The second question was similar, but the response options ranged from at least once a day to once or twice a year (for another measure, see Batcho, 1995).

Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, and Routledge (2006) developed three items that evaluate the degree to which individuals are currently experiencing nostalgia. An example of an item is "Right now, I am feeling quite nostalgic". Internal alpha reliability was .98.

Holbrook and Schindler (1991) constructed a measure of historical nostalgia, reflecting the extent to which individuals felt the historical past was preferable to the present. Cronbach's alpha is approximately .77 (Holbrook & Schindler, 1994).

Implications

Nostalgia is also a key facet of activity reminiscence therapy (see Yamagami, Oosawa, Ito, & Yamaguchi, 2007), a therapy that is sometimes utilized to treat Alzheimers disease. Typically, participants might first watch a video of tools they used when they were younger, such as old games or kitchen implements. Participants then show staff how to use the tools--a reversal of traditional roles. In one study, after this nostalgic experience, performance on the Wechsler Memory Scale-Revised improved (Yamagami, Oosawa, Ito, & Yamaguchi, 2007). Furthermore, during subsequent discussions, the participants seemed to interact and communicate more effectively. Presumably, these nostalgic memories might instill a sense of self worth.

When individuals reminisce about tools they used when they were young, a sense of nostalgia tends to be ignited. Indeed, as Schindler and Holbrook (2003) showed, any artifacts that individuals associate with their youth, including songs or cars, is especially likely to evoke nostalgic feelings of attachment.

Indeed, when designers need to decide upon the best style, design, or fashion, they should first identify the most common age of their potential or targeted customers. They should then consider the style, design, or fashion these individuals would have regularly observed while they were a teenager or young adult. For example, a car company might want to attract males who are approximately 50 years of age. They should create a design that resembles a style that was most popular about 30 years ago-?when these males were approximately 20.

Related concepts

Comfort foods

Some foods, like chicken soup, may be nostalgic to some people. Certainly, these foods may be perceived as comforting. Interestingly, comforting foods, like nostalgic memories, tend to increase a sense of belonging, especially in people with a secure attachment style.

Presumably, people tend to associate comfort foods with close relationships. Many individuals, when young in particular, may be served these comfort foods from parents or other carers. Over time, therefore, these comfort foods may evoke unconscious memories of these carers. If people entirely trust these figures in their life, representing a secure attachment style, these comfort foods should evoke a sense of safety, trust, and belonging.

Troisi and Gabriel (2011) uncovered some findings that vindicate these arguments. In one study, participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they perceive chicken soup as comforting. Over a month later, they ate some chicken soup. After eating the soup, they received a series of words, with several letters missing. Some of these words related to a sense of belonging, such as incl-de or welc-me. Other words related to positive feelings in general, such as j-y. Finally, some of the words were neutral or negative in tone. If participants perceived chicken soup as comforting, after consuming this dish, they could more readily identify words that relate to belonging. These findings imply that a sense of belonging had presumably been evoked by the chicken soup.

In a subsequent study, participants completed a measure that gauges whether their attachment style is secure and trusting or insecure and distrusting. In addition, some participants wrote about a conflict with a friend, to threaten sense of belonging. Then, participants wrote about a time in which they consumed either a comfort food or a new food. Finally, they completed a measure that determines the extent to which they feel lonely.

After their sense of belonging was threatened, participants tended to feel more lonely. However, this loneliness was not observed in participants who wrote about a comfort food--provided these individuals also reported a secure attachment style.

The Situation-Symptom Congruence Hypothesis

According to the situation-symptom congruence hypothesis, two distinct situations evoke sadness but nevertheless elicit different cognitive processes. In particular, the first situation is social loss, such as the death of a relative or the dissolution of a relationship. In this situation, the sadness actually evokes cognitive processes that facilitate the formation of other relationships. That is, sadness fosters social connections.

In contrast, the second situation is a failure to reach some goal, such as rejection from a job. In this situation, the sadness does not evoke cognitive processes that facilitate the formation of other relationships. Instead, cognitive processes that impede activity, perhaps to conserve resources or to abandon implausible objectives, are elicited (Gray, Ishii, & Ambady, 2011).

Sadness that is derived from social loss may, at least roughly, correspond to nostalgia. That is, nostalgia also coincides with memories of social loss. In addition, nostalgia also promotes social connection.

Gray, Ishii, and Ambady (2011) conducted a series of studies that distinguish these two forms of sadness. In particular, these studies show that only sadness derived from social loss fosters social connection. In the first study, participants first watched an arousing car chase for a few minutes. Next, they watched sad, happy, or neutral film clips. The sad film clips revolved around the loss of relationships and included scenes from Terms of Endearment and Patch Adams.

Next, participants heard a series of positive or negative words, voiced in either a pleasant or unpleasant tone. Some individuals were asked to decide whether the words were positive or negative while ignoring the tone. Other individuals were asked to decide whether the tone was pleasant or unpleasant while ignoring the meaning of these items.

If participants had watched a sad movie but then were told to decide whether the words were positive or negative, they could not readily disregard the tone. For example, when a word was positive, but the tone was negative, their reaction time was quite slow. Similarly, when a word was negative, but the tone was positive, their reaction time was also slow.

In short, if participants had been exposed to sad films about social loss, they were very sensitive to vocal cues. This sensitivity facilitates the formation of relationships. In particular, this sensitivity enables individuals to decide whether they will be accepted or rejected.

In the second study, participants watched movies that were intended to provoke sadness, happiness, fear, or neutral emotions. Next, they were asked to specify all the activities they would like to undertake now. If sadness had been evoked, participants were more likely to list activities that were social in nature, involving at least one other person.

In the final study, participants imagined either social loss, a failure, or no emotional event. They then completed the tasks that were administered in the previous studies. Sadness derived from social loss, but not sadness derived from failure, increased the sensitivity of individuals towards vocal cues and motivated individuals to engage in social activities.

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