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Emotion. 2006 Nov;6(4):596-610.

On misattributing good remembering to a happy past: An investigation into the cognitive roots of nostalgia.

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Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada.


Reflections on the past are often accompanied by an experience of nostalgia, or positive sentiments about some prior stage of one's life. In the current study, we provide evidence suggesting that nostalgic experiences may occur because of positive feelings that accompany the act of successful recall, rather than reflecting the true nature of the past. In a series of experiments, we employed an encoding manipulation to cause some words to support more detailed recollections than others. In turn, we measured the effect of these manipulations on judgments of both pleasantness and the emotional valence of a prior stimulus encounter. We demonstrate that recollections rich in meaning are unique in biasing people to judge having previously seen a stimulus in an emotionally positive context. In contrast, pleasantness judgments appear to be guided primarily by perceptual fluency. Overall, our results are consistent with the notion that the subjective experience of nostalgia represents a misattribution of successful remembering to a pleasant past.

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