Those good old days and the power of nostalgia4 min read . Updated: 07 Jan 2017, 11:22 PM IST
Those ambling trips down memory lane can lead to some intriguing effects, research shows
Tenu kala chasma jachda hai. Super Mario. Paper Boat drinks. Choker necklaces. Pokémon GO. La La Land. Gilmore Girls. Throwback Thursday. Facebook Memories. Unprecedented endorsement for “Back to the glory days".
It is undeniable that 2016 celebrated nostalgia in all its fervour and for good reason. We may not yet have the ability to physically travel through time, but mental time travel to the good old days is a rather cheap and effective way to feel better when we are unsure, uncertain, and uncomfortable. Last year certainly was not short of opportunities to make one feel that way.
Extant research in psychology shows that when people feel anxious, overwhelmed, or challenged in life, they use happy memories to anchor themselves.
As psychologist Clay Routledge mentions in his book, Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource, we look at the past nostalgically to “right the ship". Not surprisingly, research shows that feeling nostalgic inspires, galvanizes and motivates us to live life to its fullest.
In his fascinating book, Yearning for Yesterday, sociologist Fred Davis shares an interesting analogy for nostalgia, a nearly universal phenomenon. He likens it with a credit history check when applying for a bank loan. If the past is good—i.e., the bank account is in credit—then the future is promising.
The treasured childhood memories of Maggi noodles and Dairy Milk chocolates make us all too willing to look past most transgressions. Even with sky-high expectations, blasts from the past often go on to become blockbusters.
Research shows that the effectiveness of nostalgia in making us buy more comes from its ability to weaken the desire for money. A 2014 paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that when made to feel nostalgic, people were willing to pay more for products and displayed reduced price sensitivity.
No wonder then that Paper Boat can’t make enough of the thandai variant for Holi or the sharbat for Eid. In fact, ever since they announced that they are working on a kanji variant, my family in Delhi is on high alert.
Another brand that nailed nostalgia marketing recently is Clinique. Their latest limited edition Chubby Sticks in collaboration with Crayola bring back all the memories of faking lipstick with a crayon.
Tapping into fond memories is a powerful emotional hook in the marketers’ toolbox, and not just for making you part with hard-earned money. Turns out that remembering the past can make people more patient.
A recent research article published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that when made to feel nostalgic, people were more amenable to waiting. The effect is driven by the desire to relish the experience that induces the feelings of nostalgia.
Those who agreed were given a folder containing the questionnaire on the right side and a piece of paper on the left. Some of the diners had the phrase “Nostalgia – Memories of our good old days", written on the paper on the left while the others had blank sheets.
Apart from other details, the survey asked the diners to estimate how long they had been waiting to be seated. Results showed that those who were exposed to the “nostalgia message" estimated their wait times to be significantly shorter.
Intuitively, the most common theme of nostalgia narratives is relationships. It is a social emotion that fosters a feeling of connectedness—whether with objects or with people. Reminiscing about the days gone by highlights the value of belongingness and puts people at the center of the narrative.
Even more broadly, nostalgia is known to inspire people to be more helpful. As part of an experimental psychology study, a research assistant walked into a room and accidentally dropped a box full of pencils on the floor.
Shilpa Madan is a consumer psychologist in training at the Nanyang Business School, Singapore. Her research explores the myriad facets of the pursuit happiness and well-being. In her previous life, she has worked with Unilever in marketing and sales, in Singapore and India, across home and personal care.