What Happens To The Brain When We Experience Nostalgia

The term “nostalgia” was coined by Swiss physician Johannes Hofer derived from two Greek words, “nostos” and “algos” — meaning “suffering” and “origins”.

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.

Memory is really a sort of networking and synthesis and abstraction of all these experiences of our life. It’s what makes us humanly unique. It’s our autobiography. So nostalgia is a sense of being able to contact and read the book again.

According to Joseph Ledoux (an eminent neuroscientist working on emotions, fear and anxiety) nostalgia has something to do with how memory and emotions are stored in the brain.

Concept of Flashbulb memory:

But when a memory is stored at a time of emotional arousal, the imprint is more powerful, possibly due to the neurotransmitters, that the brain secretes in that moment. As per LeDoux’s conjecture, the process of forming the mental imprint of an event may be closely linked to what is known as “flashbulb memory.

In 2007, NYU psychologist Elizabeth Phelps identified the brain circuitry involved in the creation of flashbulb memories. Her team took scans of people’s brains as they recalled the events of September 11, 2001, and saw that the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, was lit up. Her work uncovered that the closer one was to the event, the stronger the recollection and the easier it was to retrieve.

To stockpile information into our brain, we rely on a critical structure called the hippocampus. Without it, we would be blank slates with no past. This C-shaped region of the brain is highly connected to the emotional region of the brain, the amygdala.

During an experience these two structures work together and combine information from the different senses. Consequently, an experience becomes intertwined with feelings.

So when a strongly emotional event, say, like our fifth birthday party, occurs, the amygdala is helping us perceive that emotional content and our hippocampus is processing the events that occurred—the cake, the presents and all these specific details of things that compose that birthday night. We probably don’t remember much details anymore but are just nostalgic about what a terrific time we had.

Neuroimaging Studies:

fMRI studies have examined the neural substrates of listening to music that
evokes emotions such as tenderness, peacefulness and nostalgia, showing that experiencing these high valence/low arousal emotions activates various brain regions, including:

  1. Hippocampus (HPC)
  2. Parahippocampus
  3. Ventral striatum (VS)
  4. Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC)
  5. Subgenual/rostral anterior cingulate cortex
  6. Somatosensory cortex
  7. Medial motor cortex
  8. Precuneus
  9. Medial orbitofrontal cortex

The music that many of us loved as a teenager means more to us than ever—but with each passing year, the new songs on the chartlist sound like noisy nonsense.

So, why do the songs that we heard when we were teenagers sound sweeter than anything we listen to as an adult?

This is because these songs hold disproportionate power over our emotions.

Memories are meaningless without emotion—and aside from love and drugs, nothing spurs an emotional reaction like music. Brain imaging studies show that our favorite songs stimulate the brain’s pleasure circuit (Nucleus Accumbens, Ventral Tegmental Area etc), which releases an influx of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. The more we like a song, the more we get treated to neurochemical bliss, flooding our brains with some of the same neurotransmitters that cocaine chases after.

Olfactory Nostalgia:

The smell of chlorine wafts through the air. Suddenly, we recall childhood summers spent in a swimming pool. Or maybe it’s a whiff of apple pie, or the scent of the same perfume our mom used to wear. Our noses have a way of sniffing out nostalgia.

After a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. As a member of the limbic system, the olfactory bulb can easily access the amygdala, which plays a role in emotional memories. Olfactory bulb has a strong input into the amygdala, which process emotions. The kind of memories that it evokes are good and they are more powerful. This close relationship between the olfactory bulb and the amygdala is one of the reason odors cause a spark of nostalgia.

References:

  1. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Advance Access published June 8, 2015
  2. How the brain stores sad, glad and bittersweet recollections December 25, 2014 by Luba Ostashevsky
  3. Neuron 84, 1–10, November 19, 2014 ª2014 Elsevier Inc
  4. Smells like nostalgia: Why do scents bring back memories? by Meghan Holohan

3K viewsView 9 UpvotersRelated QuestionsMore Answers BelowWhat combination of chemicals are released in the brain when one feels nostalgic? Why do I feel nostalgic weeks before something bad happens? How exactly does the feeling of nostalgia work? How long does it take for something to trigger that specific feeling in our brain? Why do I feel nostalgic about my childhood even if I am just 14? I’m 17 yet feel nostalgia for when I was 15 and 16; is getting nostalgic this young and for such recent times normal, and what can I do about it?

Ambrose Husser, 10 years US Army. 6 years u.s. lifeguard. Amateur biologist in physicist Answered April 30, 2019 · Author has 55 answers and 7.8K answer views

We define ourselves in large part with our past experiences. So when we look at our past we look at what makes us who we are. The future often brings fourth a feeling of fear and apprehension.

You must always be careful to never dwell on the past.This will lead to depression and never fixate on the future or you will live in stress fear and apprehension.

What combination of chemicals are released in the brain when one feels nostalgic? Why do I feel nostalgic weeks before something bad happens? How exactly does the feeling of nostalgia work? How long does it take for something to trigger that specific feeling in our brain? Why do I feel nostalgic about my childhood even if I am just 14? I’m 17 yet feel nostalgia for when I was 15 and 16; is getting nostalgic this young and for such recent times normal, and what can I do about it? Why do we feel nostalgic? How can one fight nostalgia? Why do I constantly feel nostalgic? I feel like I’m wasting my life and it’s nearly over, but I’m 13. Do people like to feel nostalgic? What made you feel nostalgic recently? Why do I love the feeling of nostalgia? What do 1144 and 818 mean in a twin flame journey? What happens (scientifically) when you get heartbroken? What happens in the human brain after crying? Is it common for people to feel intense nostalgia through smell?

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Johnny Harris

What happens to the brain when it recalls good times. The first 1000 people to use the link will get a free trial of Skillshare Premium Membership: https://skl.sh/johnnyharris13 Check out Nathaniel Drew’s Video on Nostalgia: https://youtu.be/hHE1cJF3OZs I launched a Patreon. If you want to support my videos, head here: https://www.patreon.com/johnnyharris For anyone who likes smarter travel, Iz and I started a company: https://brighttrip.com/?ref=5 Subscribe to my channel: https://goo.gl/1U8Zy7 My Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/johnny.harris/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JohnnyHarris Tom Fox made the music for this video: https://tfbeats.com/ I also get music from Artlist: https://bit.ly/2XfAE6C And Music Bed http://share.mscbd.fm/johnnywharris Iz’s Channel: https://www.youtube.com/iz-harris We sell our drone prints: https://backdropstock.com/collections… And we send an email once a month with a Spotify playlist. Sign up if that sounds cool: https://www.izharris.com/newsletter Gear I use: https://www.izharris.com/gear-guide Camera: https://geni.us/xK9Al Favorite Lens: https://geni.us/VrAWNG Second Favorite Lens: https://geni.us/Hcgdrb Travel Tripod: https://geni.us/Sf0bA Drone: http://geni.us/glWJhq Johnny Harris is a filmmaker and journalist. He currently is based in Washington, DC, reporting on interesting trends and stories domestically and around the globe. Johnny’s visual style blends motion graphics with cinematic videography to create content that explains complex issues in relatable ways. He holds a BA in international relations from Brigham Young University and an MA in international peace and conflict resolution from American University. Vox: https://www.vox.com/authors/johnny-ha… Spotlight: http://byupoliticalscienceblog.com/20… XYNTEO Interview: https://xynteo.com/insights/latest/po… Bonnier Talk: https://vimeo.com/232416596 Neiman Lab: https://tinyurl.com/ybjbvb7h Emmy Nomination: https://tinyurl.com/y9gjgel2 Storytelling Tips: http://chase.be/blog/5-storytelling-t… Craig Adams Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4cS0… So Money Podcast: https://tinyurl.com/ycjbl4p5

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