Study: Nostalgia Makes Us Warm, and Cold Makes Us Nostalgic

Non-stop reminiscing about Decembers past may cut down your gas bill.

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State Farm/Flickr

PROBLEM: Why do we get so nostalgic in December? Smell, touch, and music have all been proven to evoke it, and the holidays have all three (though, apologies if you're not being touched enough this season). While they can spur us to give love to our fellow man, or remind of us what's important in life, they may also serve a more utilitarian function.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers at the University of Southampton recruited college students to participate in five relatively basic studies centering around nostalgia to warmth. Some of them would probably make great holiday party games.

1. Participants were asked to keep a journal of nostalgic feelings over 30 days, which were then compared to each day's weather.

2. Participants were placed in rooms ranging from cold to comfortable to over-heated, and then asked how nostalgic they felt.

3. In an online study, participants listened to music and were asked about how nostalgic it made them feel, along with how warm they currently felt.

4. Participants were placed in a cold room and instructed to reflect on nostalgic or ordinary memories, and to then guess the room's temperature.

5. After being asked to recall a nostalgic or ordinary memory, participants placed their hands in iced water and were instructed to keep them there for as long as they possibly could.

Different participants were used for each study.

RESULTS: nostalgia.jpg Success on all fronts. The journalers recorded more nostalgic thoughts on colder days. The people in cold rooms rated highest on nostalgia scales. The people for whom the music evoked the most sentimentality reported feeling warmer. The people told to think nostalgic thoughts while in the cold room had the warmest estimates for what the temperature actually was. And the unlucky participants in the ice water experiment lasted longest when they focused on nostalgic memories.

CONCLUSION: Nostalgia appears to both to be evoked in chilly atmospheres and to have a protective effect against the cold -- either by making us feel warmer or at least increasing our tolerance.

IMPLICATIONS: If you're cold, sad, and lonely this holiday season, lose yourself in memories of happier times. That will take care of at least one of your problems.

The full study, "Heartwarming Memories: Nostalgia Maintains Physiological Comfort," was published in the journal Emotion.

Presented by

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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