The Science Behind Nostalgia

By Ye Jin Chung

Recently, people have been enthusiastic about the launch of Disney+,  a subscription-based streaming service that distributes Disney films as well as productions from Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. Classic films from Disney have always been popular, but before Disney+, it was extremely difficult to find them through online streaming services. People had limited opportunities to see these films; often, they had to pay twenty to thirty dollars to purchase a Blu-ray version. However, the launch of Disney+ has enabled people to watch these films at a much lower price. Therefore, nostalgia plays a vital role in the popularity of Disney+. What exactly is nostalgia, and how does it work?

According to Alan R. Hirsh’s report, “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” nostalgia is “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past.” We’re nostalgic towards the past because this filtering tends to romanticize it. On top of that, Howard Eichenbaum, Director of the Laboratory Cognitive Neurobiology at Boston University, stated that smell strongly impacts the provocation of nostalgia. The olfactory senses are connected to the amygdala, which processes emotions. For example, smelling freshly baked cookies from the neighbourhood bakery might make one reminisce about their grandmother’s homemade ones. As well, auditory senses provoke a strong sense of nostalgia, especially from music people remember hearing in their youth.

Interestingly, people also feel nostalgia from the music that was released before they were born. This explains why the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” was such a sensation to all generations. Positive memories have a more powerful effect. Young adults are also likely to feel nostalgic about the past due to stress. 

What kind of effect does nostalgia have on our mental health? Nostalgia plays a crucial role in suppressing anxiety, depression, and loneliness. In addition to that, nostalgia encourages optimism. Through nostalgia, individuals look towards a positive future because it reminds them of their positive past experiences. Nostalgia also helps people to build positive relationships with their peers as it helps them to feel empathy and develop communication skills. For example, everyone had experience discussing favourite films during their childhood. It’s highly likely that these films overlap, thus uniting everyone with nostalgia. Even if they didn’t, everyone still has a shared sentiment. Lastly, nostalgia raises our body temperatures. A study conducted in 2012 shows the people tend to be more nostalgia during winters. Therefore, it is natural to feel fuzzy and warm the inside when reminiscing.

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