Warm Yourself with Heart-Warming Memories

Nostalgia more common in the cold but helps individuals feel warmer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Having a hard time staying warm this winter? Take a trip down memory lane to take a bit of the chill off. A recent study found that humans may be more likely to feel nostalgia when they're in colder environments.

And that nostalgia may help them end up feeling warmer.

Nostalgia is the word for those sentimental feelings of longing when you yearn for the past. Apparently, those heartwarming memories might help you literally warm your body.

"Revisit happy memories to warm up."

The study, led by Xinyue Zhou, a psychologist at Sun Yat-Sen University in China, looked at the effects of nostalgia on our physical bodies.

The researchers conducted five separate smaller studies and compiled the research results into a single paper that found nostalgia may help you warm up – or at least feel like you're warmer – particularly when you're in a cold environment.

In the first study, 19 undergraduates reported their daily level of nostalgia on 30 consecutive days by cell phone at 10 pm. On a scale of 0 to 10, they reported whether they felt "not at all nostalgic" or "extremely nostalgic."

The researchers compared this data to the daily temperature (from February 18 to March 19 in 2008) and found that the colder the day was, the more likely it was that participants felt more nostalgia.

In the second study, the researchers randomly divided 90 undergraduates into three groups.

After all of them sat in a waiting room area at room temperature (24 degrees Celsius, or about 75 Fahrenheit), they were assigned to a cold, neutral or warm room for five minutes, where they were given a random task to fill the time.

The cold room was 20 degrees Celsius (about 68 F), the neutral room was 24 degrees C (75 F), and the warm room was 28 degrees C (82 F). Then they filled out how nostalgic they felt (scale of 1-7) on 20 items about their past, such as music, friends, places, pets, family house, etc.

The results showed that the participants in the cold room were more nostalgic (an average nostalgia score of 4.41) than those in the neutral room (average score 3.81) or the warm room (average score 3.76).

The third study involved an online survey of 1,070 Dutch volunteers who listened to four songs about love and loss and then rated how nostalgic the song made them feel and whether the song made them feel physically warm.

The results showed that the more nostalgic the participants felt, the more physical warmth they felt.

In the fourth study, 64 undergraduates were put in a room kept at 16 degrees Celsius (61 F), where they were asked to call to mind either a nostalgic event or an ordinary event in their lives, along with four descriptive words for it.

Then they rated how nostalgic they were feeling. Then they were asked to estimate the room's temperature.

The participants asked to recall nostalgic events reported feeling more nostalgic than those asked to recall ordinary information, as planned.

But the nostalgic group also perceived the room's temperature to be warmer than the other group. The nostalgic group's estimate was an average of 19.8 degrees Celsius, compared to the average 17.4 degrees reported by the non-nostalgic group.

Finally, in the fifth study, 80 undergraduates were randomly asked to do the same thing as in Study 4 (half recalled a nostalgic memory and half recalled neutral biographical information).

Then they were asked to keep their hand in cold water (4 C, 39 F) as long as they could. The nostalgic group were able to keep their hand in the water an average of 25.9 seconds, compared to the average 19.7 seconds of the control group.

Although each of these studies had its own limitations, the data together led the researchers to conclude that people are more likely to feel nostalgic when it's cold, and feeling nostalgic appears to help them feel warmer or cope better with the cold.

The study was published in the journal Emotion. The research was funded by the Key Program and General Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Science and Technology Planning Project of Guangdong Province, China, the Research Program of Sun Yat-Sen University and the Economic and Social Research Council.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 27, 2012
Last Updated:
December 30, 2012