Felipe De Brigard wrote an article for Aeon titled Nostalgia reimagined:  Neuroscience is finding what propaganda has long known: nostalgia doesn’t need real memories – an imagined past works too.

« Nostalgia involves autobiographical memories of one’s homeland, suggesting that the object of one’s nostalgic states must be a place. However, research shows that by ‘homeland’ people often mean something else: childhood experiences, long-gone friends, foods, costumes, etc. »

« Nostalgia researchers usually distinguish between ‘personal’ and ‘historical’ nostalgia; the former tends to be studied by social psychologists, while the latter tends to be studied in marketing. As a result, most experimental paradigms in the social psychology of nostalgia ask participants to think of specific memories that make them feel nostalgic. In contrast, marketing researchers tend to use historically dated external cues, such as ‘think of TV shows in the 1980s’, to elicit feelings of nostalgia – which are then associated with some sort of consumer behaviour (eg, TV ratings). Unsurprisingly, there is much psychological overlap between the two experimental strategies. Some marketing studies report that, when cued with products, participants can recall precise autobiographical memories, while other times they bring to mind less spatiotemporally precise events (e.g. ‘my time in grade school’). »

« More interesting still is that nostalgia can bring to mind time-periods we didn’t directly experience. In the film Midnight in Paris (2011), Gil is overwhelmed by nostalgic thoughts about 1920s Paris – which he, a modern-day screenwriter, hasn’t experienced – yet his feelings are nothing short of nostalgic. Indeed, feeling nostalgic for a time one didn’t actually live through appears to be a common phenomenon if all the chatrooms, Facebook pages and websites dedicated to it are anything to go by. In fact, a new word has been coined to capture this precise variant of nostalgia – anemoia, defined by the Urban Dictionary and the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as ‘nostalgia for a time you’ve never known’. »

« However, people often feel nostalgic for their homeland and, upon return, find their longing unsatisfied…  A possible solution is to think of the object of nostalgia’s desire as a place-in-time.  »


« A longer version of this article, titled ‘Nostalgia and Mental Simulation’, was published in The Moral Psychology of Sadness (2018), edited by Anna Gotlib.  »

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