Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding, Alan R.


07/08/11 23:43

Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding, Alan R. Hirsch
Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992 Pages 390-395

NOSTALGIA: A NEUROPSYCHIATRIC UNDERSTANDING Alan R. Hirsch, Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, LTD. Nostalgia, or the bittersweet yearning for the past has been eloquently analyzed in terms of society and consumerism, but what of its neuropsychiatric substrate and its implication? (Havlena, et al). It is these I shall address today. Within the psychiatric framework, nostalgia may be considered a yearning to return home to the past -- more than this, it is a yearning for an idealized past -- a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory -- not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out. For a personal example of screen memory think of your first ever vivid memory. Although to you it seems a realistic recall of an early childhood event, it in fact is a compilation of memories all integrated into one. This can be demonstrated in psychoanalysis: during the analysis of the transference neurosis, the patient's earliest memory undergoes changes and divides into multiple components that are separate, definable childhood memories. If one defines nostalgia as a yearning for an idealized past, the bittersweet nature of it becomes clearer. One can never return to this past, it never truly existed. And the present reality, no matter how good, can never be as good as an ideal -- which nostalgia has created. Thus the saying "you can't go home again." Nostalgia, unlike screen memory, does not relate to a specific memory, but rather to an emotional state. This idealized emotional state is framed within a past era, and the yearning for the idealized emotional state manifests as an attempt to recreate that past era by reproducing activities performed then and by using symbolic representations of the past. Idealized past emotions become displaced onto inanimate objects, sounds, smells and tastes that were experienced concurrently with the emotions. This same mechanism of displacement is utilized in medicine for its negative impact in the treatment of al…stalgia+for+future%22&cd=41&hl=en&ct=clnk& Page 1 of 9

com Page 2 of 9 . Alan R. Some results of these attempts throughout society may be seen in the production of sequels to movies.unchanged over the millenia. Similarly. hence gratifying nostalgic wishes. et al 1988. Through daily behavior. a driving force for behavior -. and children of alcoholics marry alcoholic spouses -. http://webcache. This is seen in persons with recurrent failing relationships (those marrying seven or eight times).com/search?q=cache:xglkl-RDInI…stalgia+for+future%22&cd=41&hl=en&ct=clnk&source=www. nostalgia may be viewed in psychiatric terms as a driving force for actual behavior -. 227). TV shows. in many ways. those with recurrent failures at business. Easter) achieves the greatest impact and relief of nostalgic drives. This explains how the intertwining of religion with the major holidays (Christmas. Thus. By attempting to recreate this idealized past. we may adopt the political affiliations and prejudices of our forebears.Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding. the nostalgic urge to recreate the past explains why so many abused children marry abusive spouses. The nostalgic urge to recreate the past within the present is. become democrats. and even those with recurrent experiences of being victimized. As other examples.the attempt to recreate an idealized past in the present. while forging linkages with the This same paradigm governs the repetition of failures on the part of "neurotics" who behave as if oblivious to logical rationale. or even racists because our parents were. Thanksgiving. Religious practices may be viewed as an immersion in institutionalized nostalgia -. Emotionally-laden rituals discharge nostalgic energies through the physical activity of the frequently we marry spouses with characteristics reminiscent of those of our parents. republicans. (Kaplan. and in the common practice of naming first-born sons after their fathers.not because their childhood was happy. Disulfiram (Antabuse) is used as an adversive conditioning agent to inhibit recurrent use of alcohol in addicts. the nostalgic urges may also be partially gratified -. Hirsch 07/08/11 23:43 coholism. Observing holidays precipitates nostalgic desires.googleusercontent. p.with an actual primitive incorporation into the self of the nostalgic choices for example (hence the passing down from generation to generation of family recipes) -. while it simultaneously recreates past experiences. one discharges psychic energies to fulfill nostalgic yearnings. hence fulfilling the nostalgic yearning. but rather because they seek to recreate their idealized sanitized memories of their childhood by identifying with symbolic manifestations of the past which they find in their alcoholic or abusive spouses.

Even as early as 1908. states. or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.googleusercontent.for return to idealized memories of a location and people left behind. as well as the normal.(Coombs).com Page 3 of 9 . '80s. Hirsch 07/08/11 23:43 Nostalgia exists in the pathological. etc. the nose directly connects with the olfactory lobe in the limbic system -. nostalgic memories are still available. in an antithetical state to nostalgia. an odor can bring back a memory from the past. and possibly the most significant. Anatomically. Often a vivid visual image is evoked along with an associated positive mood state. Freud recognized a strong link between odors and the These stimuli are context specific. where recent memory is markedly hampered.(Kaplan et al. On the other hand. Alan R. hence substituting the past for the present. However.(Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).(Hill). smelling odors. those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder do not yearn for the past but rather desire to eliminate memory for the past.that area of the brain considered the seat of the emotions. The olfactory lobe is actually part and parcel of the limbic system.(Freud).).com/search?q=cache:xglkl-RDInI…stalgia+for+future%22&cd=41&hl=en&ct=clnk&source=www. but rather a geographic nostalgia -. A classic example was described by Marcel Proust in the first volume of his novel A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (English translation Remembrance of http://webcache. the most powerful impact upon the emotions is through the sense of smell. in both nostalgia and in posttraumatic stress disorder immediate stimuli can precipitate emotionally-laden memories. seeing pictures (photo albums in fashion with their recurring trends). In senile dementia of the Alzheimer's type. In a universal phenomena called olfactory-evoked recall.hearing music (witness the popularity of "classics" of the '60s. many Viet Nam veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder describe odors of seafood or burning diesel fuel as precipitants for the flashback phenomena. All the senses may be used to precipitate the nostalgic experience -.(Lishman. Flashbacks for those who were Korean veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder describe odors of beaches and wet canvas as precipitants.Hales et al). '70s. Therefore. obsession with loss of the idealized past causes depression. In pathological bereavement. Some severely regressed schizophrenics actually live within the delusional system of their idealized memories.a yearning for a different space rather than a different time -.Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding.(MacLean). 299). For instance. 1988. p. Homesickness is not true nostalgia.(Kline et al). And Persian Gulf veterans describe gustatory-evoked recall from drinking ionized water.

The unique. Korean-Americans had a keener ability to identify odors than either black or white Americans.S. uses a special floral potpourri throughout its stores.000 odors.. Many of the customers say that the aroma lifts their spirits. 1989). supermarket. Victoria's Secret. When an odor of baked bread was released in a…stalgia+for+future%22&cd=41&hl=en&ct=clnk&source=www. sales in the bakery section increased threefold.(Davis et al).(Ackerman).(Proust). Some odors. Italians in Brazil. however. sample populations from 20 nations were asked to evaluate 22 different fragrances. Among 1002 people queried in a 1989 Gallop poll throughout the United States. a successful women's underclothing chain. An ordinary person can smell 10. Alan R. The smell of chocolate chip cookies released into the air in front of cookie stands induces the people to salivate and buy cookies. Movie theater managers infuse the air in their lobbies with the aroma of popcorn to entice patrons to buy. In general women are more sensitive to odors than are men. Ethnicity and geographical background strongly affect odor sensitivity. Japanese in Brazil http://webcache. can have a negative impact. Mexico. The aroma of madeleine dipped in tea evoked in the author a flood of memories and feelings of nostalgia. Finland. Among sample populations taken across the U. Hirsch 07/08/11 23:43 Things Past). One group with similar odor preferences included residents of California. West Germany. Native Japanese were least able to identify the odors used in the study. Taiwan.(unpublished study. Canada. Sweden. As might be expected. But no two people react in exactly the same way.Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding. the most disliked odor was the odor of fish.(Doty et al). our judgement as to the pleasantness or the unpleasantness of various odors depends too upon who we are and where we live. In one study. It is well known that the aroma of freshly baked goods conjures up warm childhood memories.googleusercontent. Norway. The populations with similar odor preferences could be grouped geographically. A second group with similar preferences included residents of Australia. France. Japanese perfume may not be a popular sales item in North Japan. Phillipines and Taiwanese in California. We might well expect any store located next to a seafood market to have their sales negatively affected by the Page 4 of 9 . leathery "new car scent" is an exciting enticement to most customers and a positive inducement to make a purchase. East Germany. The understanding that odors evoke more powerful reactions than the other senses do is not particularly new. Kansas.

the store and the items for sale. In order to further investigate olfactory-evoked recall. 989 English-speaking individuals selected at random in Water Tower Place shopping mall in Chicago consented to be interviewed in person for this Institutional Review Board approved study.Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding. the smell of farm animals. 1910s . Psychological data revealed the existence of olfactory evoked recall. Evoked memories of childhood are usually associated with a positive emotional state which may then be transferred to the place where the evoked memories are experienced -. 1960s . among persons from the east coast.43. This clustering of odor preferences implies a similar clustering of preferences with regard to foods and perfumes. in September of 1991. Among persons from the south. TABLE 1 QUESTION: "WHAT SMELLS OR ODORS REMIND YOU OF YOUR CHILDHOOD?" http://webcache. Alan R.70.338.googleusercontent. 45 states were represented and 39 countries as well.(unpublished study. 1970s . the smell of flowers prompted an olfactory-evoked recall of their childhoods. the smell of meat cooking or barbecuing. Demographic Profile: 478 were male. baby powder being associated in most persons' minds with a safe. 1950s 204.197 (Table 2). While most were reared in Chicago (325) or its suburbs (176). Hirsch 07/08/11 23:43 and Africans in Although in general. 1930s . the smell of fresh air prompted a similar recall . 1940s 118.3. Among the 1002 people mentioned previously. the particular area of the United States from which they came had a decisive influence on their responses to odors (Table 1). and among those from the west coast. 511 were female. clean environment.among those from the midwest. 1910s and 1920s were combined into a single grouping. 1920s .16. In order to achieve statistical Page 5 of 9 . 1989). data for people born in the 1900s. baked goods were the most common precipitant of an olfactory-evoked recall. the particular smells that precipitated childhood memories and the overall level of happiness with the individual's childhood. The makers of certain oriental perfumes already take advantage of this effect by adding the smell of baby powder to their formulas. Decades of birth ranged from the 1900s to the 1970s as follows: 1900s . Respondents reported basic demographic data including the decade of their birth and their predominant geographic location during…stalgia+for+future%22&cd=41&hl=en&ct=clnk&source=www.

airplane fuel. sea air and meadows.3% of those born before 1930 displayed it. then 50 years from now. vaporub. This implies that the marketing of products through nostalgia with odors would be more efficacious in a target consumer group born after 1930. Based on the Z-test for the difference between two proportions. Alan R. This is not surprising since olfactory ability decreases with age: one-half of those over 65 and three-quarters of those over 80 years of age have a reduced ability to smell.…stalgia+for+future%22&cd=41&hl=en&ct=clnk&source=www. Those born from the 1930s on were more likely to have nostalgia induced by food odors and less likely to have nostalgia induced by nature odors than those born before the 1930s. women have better olfactory ability than do men. Eighty-six and eight tenths percent of those born after 1930 displayed olfactoryevoked recall. memory worsens with age further explaining our findings in the elderly. Yet in our study at Water Tower. Those born before the 1930s cited smells of nature including pine. hay. horses.(Bartus et al). whereas only 61.Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding. scented markers. As mentioned. This shift away from natural odors and toward artificial ones may portend future problems for society. sweet tarts. how will the environmental movement be of much concern to the people who are nostalgic only for manmade chemicals? TABLE 2 TABLE 3 TABLE 4 http://webcache. regardless of whereas those born in 1930 to 1979 were reminded of their childhood by such smells as plastic.googleusercontent. If we are concerned about ecology partly out of nostalgia for nature odors. a generational effect was demonstrated in this regard (Table 3). In addition.(Doty et al). a statistically significant generational difference was found (Table 5).2% displayed olfactory evoked recall. and playdough. Results: Page 6 of 9 . no statistically significant difference was shown between the genders in their self-reports of odor-evoked nostalgia (Table 4). 85. aroma is an important nostalgia inducer. Hirsch 07/08/11 23:43 Statistics were analyzed using Chi-square test on contingency tables or Z-test for the difference between pairs of proportions.

2) consumers under 60 years old are better targets for marketing nostalgia than older consumers. 5) the product now odorized may come to be the focus of nostalgia for future consumers. This suggests that psychotherapists might well inquire into what odor induces childhood memories as a further method of gaining insight into personality. Alan R. garbage. nostalgia may be induced with greatest ease. Interestingly. Eight and seven tenths percent (or one person in 12) reported an unhappy childhood. food smells are a more effective stimulus for the younger consumer while nature smells are more effective for the older consumer. food smells would be more efficacious than would nature smells. http://webcache. 3) while a wide range of smells could be utilized to induce nostalgic Page 7 of 9 .com/search?q=cache:xglkl-RDInI…stalgia+for+future%22&cd=41&hl=en&ct=clnk&source=www. reported a happy childhood. odorize it to maximize nostalgia of present-day consumers. happiness in childhood did not correlate with ability for olfactory evoked recall -. 4) in attempting to sell a product now. Implications of our findings for marketers are: 1) approximately 85% of both men and women report smell-induced nostalgia -. This was independent of birth decade or gender. but the opposite would be true in targeting an older group.suggesting smell is an important tool in marketing. urine. manure) were defined by a panel of olfactory experts.googleusercontent. in targeting a younger consumer group. Hirsch 07/08/11 23:43 TABLE 5 TABLE 6 Clearly. About equal numbers. Foul smells (i.suggesting the universal nature of this phenomenon. Through odors. was more than twice as likely to describe such foul odors as mothballs. bus fumes. body odor. sewer The one person in 12 who reported having an unhappy childhood. Eight and eight tenths percent of those who reported olfactory-induced nostalgia said that foul smells were the precipitant. and mother's menstrual cycle (Table 6). 91% of men and 92% of women.Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding. the more we idealize the past (a temporal equivalent of "the grass is greener on the other side" or as Richard Llewellyn wrote. And whether one had a happy childhood influenced which kind of smell evoked a childhood memory. dog waste. Odors were divided into foul and nonfoul smells. 6) use of nostalgia through activation of the limbic system through the sense of smell will produce the strongest emotional appeal as a means of product marketing.e. One may speculate that nostalgic desires will increase in the coming decade since it seems likely that the more dissatisfied we are with the present.

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