New paper: Back to the future… Nostalgia increases optimism

A new paper co-authored by Dr Erica Hepper and international collaborators suggests that recalling nostalgic memories can make people more optimistic about their future.

Nostalgia is the bittersweet emotion that arises when we reflect on fond, personally meaningful memories from our past – usually through the fogiving lens of rose-tinted spectacles. Feeling nostalgic tends to be at once happy, warm and comforting, but with a tinge of longing and sadness that the memory is lost. Although nostalgia has received a bad reputation in the past, increasing evidence indicates that it is healthy to draw on our nostalgic memories to give us comfort and strength in the face of threat. However, does nostalgia make us feel ‘stuck in the past’ or can it also shed positive light on the future?

The research was led by Dr Wing Yee Cheung of the University of Southampton and appears in the November 2013 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It involved four experiments which each induced the feeling of nostalgia in a different way and examined its effects on optimism compared to control conditions. Study 1 showed that when people describe their nostalgic memories, these descriptions show traces of optimistic thoughts and feelings. The next three studies induced feelings of nostalgia by asking participants to recall a nostalgic memory, listen to a song that is generally considered nostalgic, or read through the lyrics of a personally nostalgic song. In all three studies, participants who did so felt more optimistic than those who focused on an ordinary memory or a neutral song. This occurred regardless of gender or age and across three different countries.

Additional mediation analyses suggested that optimism may increase because our nostalgic memories tend to involve people who are close to us, making us feel socially connected to others and therefore to feel good about ourselves. In this positive light of self-esteem, we believe that things will go well in the future too. That is, far from making us stuck in the past, it seems that nostalgic memories can help to paint a rosier future.

Full-text article via Sage Publications:

Nostalgia Research Group at University of Southampton:

Cheung, W.Y., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Hepper, E. G., Arndt, J., & Vingerhoets, A. J.J.M. (2013). Back to the future: nostalgia increases optimism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, (11),1484-1496. (doi:10.1177/0146167213499187).