The Power of Nostalgia
To confirm if nostalgia is indeed a feeling or not, and to understand why nostalgia is such a powerful feeling.
Nostalgia as a Feeling
- Our research on the history of human understanding of the concept of nostalgia, scientific studies, and articles about nostalgia's impact have led us to the conclusion that although nostalgia has a variety of definitions, descriptions, and ways that it can be experienced, a majority of scientists, writers, and individuals experiencing nostalgia have concluded that it is indeed a "feeling."
- "Nostalgia" was first coined as a term in a 1688 dissertation written by Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer. He identified nostalgia as an illness with identifiable symptoms, linked to being homesick.
- Human understanding of nostalgia as an illness, with symptoms like heart palpitations and and breathing issues, continued up until the 20th century, when the definition of nostalgia shifted to a more general idea of a longing for one's past - whether one's past self, or events or people in one's past.
- To support the idea that nostalgia is a "feeling" with an example of more recent scientific evidence, a 2017 UC Berkeley study confirmed nostalgia as one of 27 identifiable human emotions, based on the self-identified emotional responses of hundreds of participants.
- Nostalgia can be triggered in humans by a variety of external stimuli, including sensory details like sounds, smells, or tastes, or thoughts or discussion of the past.
- Various studies confirm that nostalgia inspires resulting powerful emotions of happiness or sadness - usually, it's thought to be linked to resulting positive emotions.
- Based on a 2016 study in which people experiencing nostalgia were given MRI scans, nostalgia is thought to trigger parts of the brain dedicated to memory as well as reward-based areas of the brain, which evoke positive feelings, and lay the groundwork for future positive associations with these relived memories.
- Some of the studies we reviewed from the past decade highlighted ways that the feeling of nostalgia may be an adaptive tool that humans can use to experience more positive feelings or self-confidence, or even physical advantages, in difficult circumstances. For example, one study from 2012 showed that research subjects feeling nostalgia while in cold temperatures or touching cold objects were able to withstand the feeling of cold for longer periods of time.
- Nostalgia is also considered to be a "powerful" emotion because studies have shown that it can strongly impact decision-making in individuals, in terms of everything from purchasing decisions to their interpretation of historical events or voting choices. This indicates that a shared feeling of nostalgia experienced by a group of people can impact markets or governments on a larger scale and have globally resonant effects.
- In addition to this public search, we scanned our proprietary research database of over 1 million sources and were unable to find any specific research reports that address the goals of this research. That said, there is an abundance of information in the public domain we have included here and could use in future research to continue deepening our search.
Proposed next steps:
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Various studies conducted in the past five years have more deeply assessed the psychology behind nostalgia and its impact on one's physical and mental health. We recommend a search deeper into these studies with a more detailed summary of 2-3 overall findings of the tremendous positive or negative impact that nostalgia can have on the human brain.
Alternatively, the concept of nostalgia has a rich and fascinating history, particularly in terms of its interpretation as an illness throughout through the 19th century. We could provide additional research into the evolution of mainstream comprehension and significance of nostalgia from the 17th century to the present.