Why We Feel Nostalgic, According to Science

In our latest episode on Nostalgia, we discussed how nostalgia can warp your sense of reality and how you remember things from the past. We often romanticise the past in order to deal with any difficult challenges we are currently experiencing in our life and thus, reminisce about times when things were simpler. However, living in the past can distract us from said problems, as well as prevent us from living in the present, the only moment we are able to experience. But how does science explain nostalgia? Why do we get nostalgic when things get hard in our present life? Science explains.

Nostalgia has been extensively researched in the fields of psychology and neuroscience and has been found to be a very common human experience. Here are some key insights as to why we feel nostalgic according to scientific research:

1. Emotional Regulation:

Just as we mentioned in the episode, we use nostalgia as a way to distract us from our difficult present to remember a simpler past. Nostalgia often involves remembering positive memories or events from the past. This can help us regulate our emotions of fear and uncertainty by thinking of memories which are happier, comforting and joyful. It allows individuals to relive moments of happiness and reduce feelings of loneliness.

2. Social Bonding:

According to science, nostalgia is often triggered by shared experiences: when people reminisce about the past with each other, it creates a sense of connection, understanding and belonging. This can be important to some in building and reinforcing relationships.

3. Coping Mechanism:

I believe this is the one we are all guilty of. Many of us daydream about past scenarios and events as a way to escape stressful or uncertain times. It provides us with a psychological escape to times which were more stable and secure. This helps individuals with reducing feelings of anxiety.

4. Cultural and Societal Influence:

It doesn’t help that our current pop culture reminisces the past a lot. With fashion trends, such as Y2K and vintage fashion coming back in full force, or our parents’ music making its way into our playlists, nostalgia is ingrained into our culture and reinforced by these trends. This allows us to collectively feel nostalgic and reflect on memories of a particular generation or era.

5. Neurological Basis:

Research using neuroimaging has shown that the brain regions associated with emotion and memory (the amygdala and hippocampus) are involved when we are feeling nostalgic. Neuroscientific studies suggests that nostalgia is a complex interplay of cognitive processes and emotional processes, hence why we tend to feel a particular way when we replay past memories in our minds.

Want to learn more? Explore these additional recommendations below:

Ted-Ed – Why do we feel nostalgia? : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiTgn5QH_HU&pp=ygUcdGhlIHNjaWVuY2UgYmVoaW5kIG5vc3RhbGdpYQ%3D%3D

SciShow Psych – The Unxpected Benfetis (and Risks) of Nostalgia : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_sHPvF5n1Q&pp=ygUcdGhlIHNjaWVuY2UgYmVoaW5kIG5vc3RhbGdpYQ%3D%3D

Psychology Today – The Psychology of Nostalgia [article]: The Psychology of Nostalgia | Psychology Today United Kingdom

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