Have you ever had a pleasant sentimental thought and felt ‘all warm inside’? Turns out that feeling might be an actual physiological response, at least according to some research cited over at the Greatist. Here are the basics:
Researchers conducted five separate studies to see if there was a connection between nostalgia — a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past — and physical warmth.
•In the first study participants kept a journal for 30 days. Results showed they recorded more nostalgic thoughts on colder days.
•In the next, volunteers were placed in either a cold, comfortable, or hot room, and were asked how nostalgic they felt. Those in the coldest room had recorded feeling the most nostalgic.
•The third was conducted online, researchers recorded how warm participants felt when listening to music. Those who felt nostalgic from listening to music also felt warmer.
•The fourth had volunteers were asked to think either nostalgic or normal thoughts and then guess how cold the room was. People who felt nostalgic perceived the room warmer than it really was.
•The final study had participants thought either nostalgic or ordinary thoughts again, and then was asked to place their hands in ice water to see how long they could tolerate it. Scientists discovered (you guessed it!) those who recalled a nostalgic event kept their hand in the water for longer.
Of course, looking at this data I am wondering if we are seeing causation or simply correlation – in other words, is the nostalgia causing warmth (or resistance to cold) or is it our association of nostalia and warmth that is driving a mental reaction. That is a very difficult problem to solve.
As to why it matters, right now I am reading Retromania, a look at our obsession with things of an ever-closer past rather than on what is happening at the moment. In other words – an era of nostalgia as dominant mainstream pop culture. And it has only gotten worse since that book came out in 2011.
The researchers also point to studies correlating cold and loneliness, and triangulate that through nostalgia we can drive away the cold and lonely feelings at the same time. That is a comforting thought that kinda makes me warm inside … except for the part about focusing on the past rather than driving the future …