The research from the University of Southampton examined the idea that nostalgia is not simply a past-orientated emotion but its scope extends into the future, with a positive outlook.
In one of the reported studies, researchers asked participants to bring to mind a nostalgic event and write about it. The number of optimistic words included in the narrative was compared to a control group who were asked to recall and write about an ordinary event. The nostalgic narratives contained a significantly higher proportion of optimistic expressions than the ordinary stories.
A further study capitalised on music's capacity to evoke nostalgia. Participants listened to either a nostalgic or control song (which had been previously validated). Those who listened to the nostalgic song reported higher levels of optimism than those who listened to the control song.
In a final study, participants were presented with song lyrics that half the group had previously identified to be nostalgic. They were then asked to complete questions about how they felt. Those who read the personally nostalgic lyrics reported higher levels of optimism than those who read the control lyrics.
Dr Tim Wildschut, co-author of the study said that it was found that nostalgia raises self-esteem which in turn heightens optimism.
The studies have shown that nostalgia does have the capacity to facilitate perceptions of a more positive future. Memories of the past can help to maintain current feelings of self-worth and can contribute to a brighter outlook on the future.
The study is published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.