How Nostalgia Can Help With Sadness

June 22, 2011 Katharina Lochner

Sad or Lonely? A Bit of Nostalgia Helps!

Ever felt like watching one of those movies you adored when you were a child? Or having one of the sweets you loved? And then all these memories of the good old days when you were a child came back? Nostalgia can be so nice at times. And it can even help you when you are feeling sad or lonely.

In a series of experiments, Katherine E. Loveland and Naomi Mandel from Arizona State University and Dirk Smeesters from Erasmus University Rotterdam found that the consumption of nostalgic products such as movies, television shows, foods, cars, or even shower gel can help in situations in which one is feeling rejected or lonely. They see the reason for this mechanism in the need to belong: the emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. This need is activated when individuals feel socially excluded, and it increases their preference for nostalgic products. The consumption of these products satisfies the need to belong.

In a series of experiments, the researchers evoked the need to belong in participants using different methods. One, for example, was a virtual ball-tossing game in which some of the participants were excluded by hardly ever getting the ball, whereas others were fully integrated in the game. This exclusion activated participants’ need to belong, which was measured using different questionnaires. When the need to belong was activated, participants in the study showed an increased preference for nostalgic products, compared to non-nostalgic (contemporary) products. The need to belong was measured again after the consumption of the products – and turned out to deactivated after the consumption of nostalgic products. Just being reminded of the products, however, was not enough to fulfill the need. They had to be consumed.

The original article can be found in the Journal of Consumer Research. There is also an article on the experiments on and on

Thus, the consumption of nostalgic products can satisfy the individual need to belong. And the need to belong is usually evoked when one feels sad, lonely or excluded. Therefore, consuming nostalgic products can help make one feel better again when one feels sad, lonely or excluded.

About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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