© 2023 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

GLT Datebook: The Psych Geeks Explore Nostalgia

rearview mirror
Robert Couse-Baker
Flickr/Creative Commons
Looking back has its benefits.

Taking a moment to reflect on your past, recall a cherished friend or replay a memory is more than just a fun journey into remembrance. It’s a healthy jaunt through nostalgia, and according to GLT’s Psych Geeks, it can do you a world of good.

Eric Wesselmann and Scott Jordan are psychology professors at Illinois State University. Their not-so-secret identities as GLT’s Psych Geeks have them focusing on pop culture matters from the psychological angle.

"'Grease' is the film embodiment of nostalgia."

Nostalgia often takes center stage in culture today, with frequent reboots of movies and TV and the omnipresent #TBT. While some decry the focus on the past, Wesselmann noted that it can be helpful for people to be nostalgic.

“When we look at the function of nostalgia, one of them is to make us feel safe. If I’m feeling a lot of uncertainty, either personally or societally, if I feel like there’s a threat either physically or ideologically to me, feeling nostalgic about a simpler time – whether or not it really was simpler – it helps me feel some sort of consistency and existential security.” 

People are most likely to revel in nostalgia during phase transitions or during an identity crisis, said Wesselmann. 

“Another function of nostalgia is identity continuity. Most studies on nostalgia find that when people go into a nostalgic state, it’s usually something positive, but not always. If they see a negative memory, nine times out of 10, the focus of that memory is: ‘I am who I am now because of the crap that I had to go through.’ I would hypothesize that when you go through some sort of identity crisis, that’s when you would want nostalgia more.” 

Increasingly, we want nostalgia up on the big screen as we revel together at movie theaters. Wesselmann has co-organized a showing of the classic musical “Grease” at the Normal Theater for Friday, April 19, at 7 p.m. The event features a 1950s costume contest, a display of classic cars, giveaways, and more. But this is not just any screening of “Grease." It’s the sing-along version, with the words to the songs projected up on the screen for the audience to join in together. 

“Nostalgia is all about bonding,” said Wesselmann. “One of the core components is this feeling of being socially connected to others. We know from scientific data that when people sing together, they feel more socially connected.” 

"'Grease' is the film embodiment of nostalgia,” Wesselmann added.  

“We’re all becoming increasing aware that we live in nostalgia,” observed Jordan. “I look at nostalgia as a narrative. It’s an unconscious narrative that we record in our bodies and our brains as a function of our lived life.” 

“I would argue that memory isn’t something that is different from seeing or walking or believing. All of those are imbued with memory. All the things we do over and over become embedded in the structure of our brain. We actually live in this unconscious world of memory, what one might call an unconscious world of nostalgia.”  

We’re also becoming more aware of the diverse narratives that we’re living in, observed Jordan. 

“Therefore, there’s not some kind of monolithic narrative that we’re all supposed to subscribe to. We’re becoming more open to individualistic lived-life narratives. And because of that, I think it’s increasingly possible for people to appreciate their own nostalgia as its own story, and we are becoming increasingly aware that we all have our own nostalgia. Then we can ask each other about what our nostalgia might be.” 

Wesselmann has written more about nostalgia and the film “Grease” for the Normal Theater. You can ready his essayhere.

The quickest route to memory lane is straight up your nasal passages. The Psych Geeks talk about the power of scent as it relates to nostalgia.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.