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Sunday August 20 2017

The Golden Age of Nostalgia Research

My name is fitting because I used to grace this blog frequently. Scrawl back to time immemorial – or maybe just last year – and you’ll find my spectral fingerprints on the screen. Those were the good old days of iPhone fives, scooting to school, and writing posts that rambled endlessly to make it appear as though I have something like an informed opinion.

No longer. iPhone six was created by hammering cash against an iPad. School is something I forget along with integration rules. And I’m a ghost of the Meducator who is supposed to be writing an informative piece brimming with coherence and congruence.

I’ll try, but in doing so, knowingly have to back-cast on days once lived, moments once had. This degenerative thinking is intentional, as is the self-congratulating idolization of my former self contrasted against the current self. Scientifically speaking, it’s the psychological act of nostalgia; that is, remembering the past in order to not only affect the present but shape the future. While the research surrounding nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – once defined as a neurotic malady by Johannes Hofer, who in 1688 coined term nostalgia as a mal du pays or homesickness – it is now jumbled with cognitive neuroscience and the ever-expanding universe (or perhaps black hole, depends who you ask) of psychology.

Far apart from the melancholia or depression suggested by the Swiss doctor (whose Aristotelian humour theory was as hole-riddled as his cheese), nostalgia’s sentimentality has shown positive trends in human behavior. It fights boredom. For example: if you are uninterested in the rest of the article, remember the laughs we had in the beginning. That ghost joke was great, past Kacper.

It also contextualizes one’s existential weight. Rather than balk at the uncertainty of the future and one’s insignificance to it, nostalgia serves as a positive feedback loop to remind a person of their history. While what is upcoming, and perhaps what is now, is often marred by consuming uncertainty, an individual who reflects on previous events ensures that life can go on in whatever form because it has gone on in whatever form.

Colloquially said: the funny thing about today is that it happens tomorrow too. Who knows – it might’ve also happened yesterday.

This is not to say nostalgia provides a meaning to life or even suggests one. Instead it contextualizes the continual experience of life. To live is to make up memories and to live longer is to internalize them and reflect on them later.

This type of reflexive recollection ultimately leads to a greater sense of social cohesion. Memories can be depressing, leading to a sense of discontinuity. Nostalgia, on the other hand, is suggested to almost always involve other individuals. Part of this is the result of cross-wiring in the amygdala, the emotional region of the brain, which is evoked by particular stimuli in group settings. Similar motions, smells, auditory, or tactile sensations can cause reminiscence, which will later be tied to the other individuals around.

But, of course, none of this scientific posturing really matters when you’re in the heap of the warm hug and kiss of a memory. Nostalgia happens simply because it did happen and perhaps, if you’re lucky, will happen again. I wrote for the Meducator once more, didn’t I?

By Kacper Niburski

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References:

Batch, K. Nostalgia: A Pyschological Perspective. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1995. 80; 131-143.

Havelna, W., Holak, S. The Good Old Days: Observation on Nostalgia and its Role in Consumer Behavior. Advances in Consumer Research. 1991. 18; 323-329.

Routledge, C., Arndt, J., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T. A Blast from the Past: The Terror Management Function of Nostalgia. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2006. 44; 132-140.

Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., Routledge., C. Nostalgia: Past, Present, and Future. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2008. 17; 304-307.

Zhou, X., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Gao, DG. Counteracting Loneliness: On the Restorative Function of Nostalgia. Psychological Science. 2008. 19; 1023-1029.

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The Meducator is McMaster University’s undergraduate Health Sciences Journal. It publishes pieces that critically address current issues with a high degree of scientific rigor, but in a way that is accessible to a broad audience.

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