Think Again: Nostalgia Increases Positive Feelings Towards Out-Groups

Have you ever caught yourself wistfully thinking about a past event? If so, you aren’t alone; research has shown that almost everyone engages in nostalgic thinking and that these types of memories occur quite often — around 3 times per week. Historically, nostalgia was thought to be a variant of depression, but new research is changing the way we view this emotion. There is now a large body of evidence suggesting nostalgia has positive impacts on how people feel about themselves and how connected they feel towards others. Turner, Wildschut, Sedikides, and Gheorghiu, the authors of a recent European Journal of Social Psychology study, further this research by examining whether nostalgia can be effective in reducing stigma against out-groups (2013).

In a previous study, the authors examined the effect of nostalgia on feelings towards overweight people, who often experience stigma and are viewed as an out-group. They found that nostalgic recollections of a past interaction with an overweight person led participants to adopt a more positive view of overweight people in general by increasing feelings of trust, perceived similarity, and perceived commonality. Unfortunately the authors failed to include measures of social connectedness in their original study — a potential mediator of the effect of nostalgia on attitudes towards out-groups (2012). The authors rectified this by including social connectedness in the current study, which examined the effect of nostalgia on attitudes about the mentally ill.

In the first of two experiments, the authors successfully replicated the effect of nostalgia on attitudes towards out-groups, finding that bringing to mind nostalgic memories of an interaction with a mentally ill person increased participants’ feelings of closeness (inclusion of the out-group in the self — IOGS) and the positivity of their attitudes towards the mentally ill.

In their second experiment, the authors examined the role of social connectedness in this relationship. Participants were asked to bring to mind a person they knew with a mental illness and to spend 5 minutes imagining a nostalgic memory or an ordinary memory that included them. Participants then wrote a description of the event before completing measures assessing their mood, social connectedness, IOGS, out-group trust, out-group attitude, positivity of the selected out-group member, and typicality of the selected out-group member. Using a serial mediation model, the authors found that nostalgia increased social connectedness, which in turn predicted increased IOGS and out-group trust. Increased levels of IOGS and out-group trust resulted in more positive attitudes towards mentally ill persons.

This finding not only represents a huge step forward in our understanding of the effect of nostalgia on our attitudes towards out-groups, but also opens up a potential method for improving face-to-face intergroup encounters and reducing prejudice towards stigmatized groups.

References and Further Reading

Turner, R. N., Wildschut, T., & Sedikides, C. (2012). Dropping the weight stigma: Nostalgia improves attitudes toward persons who are overweight. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 130–137.

Turner, R. N., Wildschut, T., & Sedikides, C. (2013). European Journal of Social Psychology. Combating the mental health stigma with nostalgia. European Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 413–422.

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