Remembering the Real Me: Nostalgia Offers a Window to the Intrinsic Self

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Abstract

Seven studies reveal that nostalgia, a sentimental affection for the past, offers a window to the intrinsic self-concept—who people think they truly are. In Study 1, state nostalgia was associated with higher authenticity and lower extrinsic self-focus (concern with meeting extrinsic value standards). In Study 2, experimentally primed nostalgia increased perceived authenticity of the past self, which in turn predicted reduced current extrinsic self-focus. Study 3 showed that nostalgia increased the accessibility of the intrinsic self-concept but not the everyday self-concept. Study 4 provided evidence for a moderator suggested by our theoretical analysis: Recalling a nostalgic event increased felt nostalgia and positive affect, but this effect was attenuated if participants were prompted to recognize external factors controlling their behavior during that event. Next we treated nostalgia as an outcome variable and a moderator to test whether nostalgia is triggered by, and buffers against, threats to the intrinsic self. Using a mediation approach, Study 5 showed that participants primed to feel blocked in intrinsic self-expression responded with increased nostalgia. In Study 6, intrinsic self-threat reduced intrinsic self-expression and subjective well-being for participants who were not given an opportunity to respond with nostalgia but not for participants who were allowed to reflect on a nostalgic memory. In line with the experimental findings, correlational data from Study 7 indicated that dispositional nostalgia positively predicted intrinsic self-expression and well-being. Understanding nostalgia as a window to the intrinsic self points to new directions for research on nostalgia's antecedents, moderators, and consequences for well-being.

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