In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Wing Yee (VerBon) Cheung of the University of Southampton explains why how we think about the past can influence attitudes about the future.
VerBon Cheung is a research fellow at the Centre for Research on Self and Identity at the University of Southampton. She is currently involved in research projects investigating topic related to Individual differences underlying nostalgia, nostalgia and the ideal self, and nostalgia and modes of thinking. She earned her Ph.D. at Cardiff University.
Dr. Wing Yee (VerBon) Cheung - Nostalgia and Optimism
Thinking about fond memories from our past often triggers nostalgia that fills us with the warm and fuzzy feelings. Ample amount of research has shown that nostalgia confers psychological benefits. For example, nostalgia makes us feel closer to other people and we also feel better about ourselves. This seemingly past-oriented emotion renders the present more positive. We take a step further and assess whether psychological scope of nostalgia may also extend into the future.
First, we found that the concept of optimism is naturally embedded in nostalgia narratives. We asked participants to recall and write about a nostalgic event or an ordinary event. Nostalgic narratives contained a significantly higher proportion of optimistic expressions than the ordinary stories. In three other studies, we induced nostalgia by having participants write about a nostalgic event, listen to a nostalgic or a control song, or read nostalgic or control song lyrics. Across these different methodologies, experimentally induced nostalgia consistently fosters optimism. We also assessed the underlying mechanism and we found that nostalgia first fostered social connectedness, which subsequently lifted self-esteem, which then heightened optimism. Put otherwise, people feel more optimistic because they experienced a lift in self-esteem, which was stemmed from an enhanced sense of social connectedness derived from nostalgic reverie.
So, nostalgia does have the capacity to facilitate perceptions of a more positive future. It implies that nostalgia is an important resource that we already have in us. Memories of the past can contribute to a brighter outlook on the future and help us cope with psychological adversity in a more engaged and healthier manner.