Neuroscience and nostalgia


Patrick from Very Evolved takes a look at the science behind nostalgia:

Our brain isn’t the hard drive of a computer, and our memories aren’t hard coded and unchangeable. Every time you recall a memory it may become subtly altered and associated with what ever it was that triggered that old memory. If this trigger happens repeatedly, then you’re adding new layer of interpretation that will be recalled automatically with the old memory next time it’s called up.

A great example of this in action that also demonstrates fluid nostalgia, is the backlash against George Lucas. A large portion of 70’s and 80’s children had grown up owning Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader figures and playing in the backyard pretending sticks were light sabers. Fond childhood memories.
When the first abysmal Star Wars Prequel was released the strong feelings against the film weren’t just those of disappointment at a bad movie. If it were that simple, we should also feel the same way about Police Academy 7.

The reaction can be partly explained by the sense of attack on our previously fond feelings. Watching the new movie automatically calls up memories from the previous series and all the pleasant childhood playtime memories associated with it. But recalling these fond memories in the context of a negative experience begins the process of re-coding, or modifying our old memories.  This is an undesirable outcome for nostalgia as it is usually such a pleasant feeling. Naturally there is some resistance and cognitive dissonance when this happens and the brain will try to avoid it like any other unpleasant experience.

Everyone loves a little emotional pick-me-up.  It’s why beer drinking sessions with old buddies tends to devolve into glory days.  Not sure if Patrick also did the photo above, but it’s a doozy.

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