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The University of Southampton

Research project: Using nostalgia to reduce ageism

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Older people are perceived as cognitively deficient, irritable, weak, nagging, grouchy, senile, useless, stubborn, and unproductive. Ageism has negative consequences for the psychological and physical health of older adults.

Moreover, ageism leads to discrimination. Older patients are frequently disregarded by medical staff; for example, physical ailments and depression are often misdiagnosed or overlooked, and physicians are less engaged, less respectful, less supportive, and less egalitarian when talking to elderly patients than when talking to young patients. In the workplace, older adults have trouble finding and keeping jobs, because they are presumed to be less productive than their younger counterparts. The root of discriminatory practices, ageism, needs to be tackled. We propose and test the idea that nostalgia curtails ageism.

Recent research suggests that nostalgia, “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past” (The New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1998, p. 1266), is a predominantly positive emotion that serves critical psychological functions. One such function is social connectedness. Nostalgia, when induced experimentally, augments perceptions of social support, raises estimates of the number of friends one has, fosters sentiments of being protected and loved, decreases attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance, and increases perceptions of social competence.
In this line of research, we propose that when individuals become nostalgic about a known outgroup member, a stronger sense of social connectedness will facilitate greater inclusion of that person in the self. Furthermore, provided that this person’s group membership is salient, inclusion of her or him in the self will faciliate inclusion of the entire outgroup in the self. Increased empathy with outgroup members’ plight, pride in their achievements, and a favorable evaluation of them may ensue. In all, nostalgia about an older adult will heighten self-inclusion of the group older adults, which consequently will improve attitudes toward older adults.

Moreover, nostalgia about an outgroup member may engender outgroup trust. Trust constitutes a benign expectation about a person’s intentions and behavior. If individuals, as a result of nostalgia, nurture a sense of connectedness to an outgroup member, they will likely trust that person. Increased favorability toward the outgroup, as well as more effective communication and cooperation, may ensue. In all, nostalgia about an older adult will strengthen trust of older adults, which consequently will improve attitudes toward older adults.

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Related research groups

Centre for Research on Self and Identity (CRSI)
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