Smell, touch, and music have all proven to evoke nostalgia and researchers at the University of Southampton have discovered that nostalgia is linked to the physical feeling of warmth.
The scientists published their findings in the journal Emotion. The scientists recruited college students to participate in five basic studies centering around nostalgia and warmth. One study involved keeping a journal of nostalgic feelings for 30 days, which was compared to the weather. In another study, students were placed in rooms ranging from cold to comfortable to over-heated and then asked how nostalgic it felt. In an online study, they listened to music and were asked how nostalgic it made them feel and how warm they felt. In the fourth study, participants were placed in a cold room and instructed to reflect on nostalgic or ordinary memories, and then guess the room’s temperature. And in the last study, they were asked to recall a nostalgic or ordinary memory and then place their hands in iced water. They were instructed to keep them there as long as possible. Each study used different participants.
The results showed that the journalers recorded more nostalgic thoughts on colder days. People in cold rooms rated highest on nostalgia scales. People for whom music evoked the most sentimentality reported feeling warmer than others. People told to think nostalgic thoughts in a cold room had the warmest estimates for the temperature. The participants with the hands in ice water lasted longer if they focused on nostalgic memories.
The researchers concluded that nostalgia appeared to be evoked in chillier temperatures and to have a positive effect against the cold, by making people feel warmer or increasing their tolerance against the cold.
Reference: “Heartwarming memories: Nostalgia maintains physiological comfort” by Xinyue Zhou, Tim Wildschut, Constantine Sedikides, Xiaoxi Chen and Ad J J M Vingerhoets, 5 March 2012, Emotion.