Tag Archives: psychology

Why do humans get nostalgic?

Nostalgia is one of my greatest weaknesses, I think. For such a long time I’ve been severely missing aspects of my childhood, and often these memories are a source of depression. For me, nostalgia prevents me from moving forward. However, I know many other people experience nostalgia as a calming mechanism and can easily look back on happy memories without any emotional turmoil in the present. “‘When you’re nostalgic about something, there’s a little bit of a sense of loss—[the moment has] happened, it’s gone—but usually the net result is happiness,’ says Clay Routledge, a social psychologist at North Dakota State University, who, with several other researchers, has studied the emotion extensively over the past decade.” Either way, experiencing nostalgia definitely influences mood, and can affect how we live our lives. So where does it come from?

Routledge conducted a study on the possible triggers of nostalgia (found here). Participants were asked to describe situations that lead to experiencing nostalgia, and scientists found that negative emotions, chiefly loneliness, were the most common answers. This makes sense, going along with Routledge’s initial statement- nostalgia is possibly brought about in an attempt to cope with any negative mental state someone may find himself or herself in. Routledge refers to these as “psychological threats.” But if this is the case, it doesn’t make sense that my negative mental states often come from the nostalgia itself. Also, this study is observational, and results may be confounded by third variables such as the age of the participant or possible mental disorders. I would need an actual experiment studying the levels of brain chemicals during episodes of nostalgia to be completely convinced that nostalgia is brought about by a negative mental state.

Upon doing some more digging, I thought it was a bit odd that many news articles studying nostalgia and its effects cite the same study by Routledge (and on some occasions, nothing else.) I find it hard to believe that there are so few modern studies conducted on this topic of psychology. There are several older studies that take a more negative view on the effects of nostalgia, but the only study used to inform the public about the new light scientists are seeing the nostalgia issue under is the one conducted at North Dakota State University. The findings of the study do look decent, and many researchers were involved, but there should be more scientists doing similar experiments in order to reduce the likelihood of chance.



Where do our fears come from?

Everybody has something that keeps them up when things go bump in the night. The National Comorbidity Survey, a study of more than eight thousand respondents in the United States, ranked the popularity of several phobias:

1. Bugs, mice, snakes, and bats 2. Heights 3. Water 4. Public transportation 5. Storms 6. Closed spaces 7. Tunnels and bridges 8. Crowds 9. Speaking in public

Our fears tend to change as we grow older: for example, WebMD says that common fears of preschoolers include masks, the dark, monsters and ghosts, while children in school panic due to snakes and spiders, being home alone, angry teachers, doctors, and natural disasters. But how do we develop these fears?

The most obvious answer is that a fear can be formed by a traumatic experience in the past involving the source of terror. For example, if I was stung by a bee as a child, I would naturally be afraid of bees in the present due to anxiety that I might be stung again. However, this isn’t always the case- I’m somewhat afraid of bees even though I’ve never been stung or even seen it happen to someone else.

Another possible explanation is that fear arises from witnessing another person’s anxiety or phobia. Michael Cook at the University of Wisconsin discovered that “monkeys born in the wild are afraid of snakes — a useful asset for their survival. But monkeys raised in a laboratory don’t react when they see a snake, whether it’s poisonous or not. This shows that our fears can’t be genetic.” However, “monkeys who have never been afraid of snakes quickly learn to be frightened of them: they only have to see that another monkey is scared. And it only has to happen once.”

This would certainly explain many phobias, but I’m still left wondering why seeing a horror movie in a theater with other scared people has less of an effect on many of us than seeing a horror movie at night in the dark while at home alone. This probably stems from being afraid of the dark and sudden noises as a preschooler, but why do some people carry this fear throughout adulthood?

Maybe a fear of darkness is so common because most humans fear the unknown or what they cannot see with the naked eye. “This fear, and the grinding anxiety that it generates, acts as a check and limiting mechanism against reckless behavior like, say, running around in the dead of the African night with a continent’s-worth of big cats out on the prowl. In other words, it’s an evolutionary advantage.” Anxiety increases awareness and at a time when humans were far from the top of the food chain, being afraid of the dark made all the difference in the survival of the species.


(source: https://www.scienceworld.ca/ads)