How to

18 January 2017

Nostalgia Makes Us Warmer

B&H Explora
We generally encounter the term “mind over matter” in relation to sports in which feats of physical strength and endurance are required. It usually accompanies other yelled phrases like “push it to the max, bro”, “bro, do you even lift?” and “let’s bro-down.” However, there are certain scenarios in which it’s not only relevant as an ethos, but is also employed in a softer, somewhat more poignant manner.

One such context, according to psychologists at Sun Yat-Sen University, can be cold weather survival. If you’re stuck in a cold environment with no prospects of warming yourself physically, researchers claim you can nonetheless make yourself feel slightly warmer by thinking nostalgic thoughts.

In fact, the study yielded several surprising results regarding the effect nostalgia can have on our perceptions of temperature; and, indeed, vice versa. Researchers found:
  • When the weather is colder, we tend to have more nostalgic thoughts
  • In a cold room, we feel more nostalgic
  • In a cold room, nostalgic thoughts can make us think the room itself is warmer
  • Listening to music which makes us feel nostalgic also makes us feel warmer
  • Nostalgic thoughts enable us to submerge our hands in ice water for longer

Cold environments, it seems, are linked to the feeling of nostalgia by a two-way street. The cold can help us feel nostalgic; and nostalgia can help us feel warmer. However, whilst this seems like a recipe for an upward spiral, the phenomenon, of course, has its limits. We can’t, for example, rely solely on nostalgia to feel warm – otherwise, we could just jump in the snow, feel nostalgic and then feel warmer. Nostalgia-made warmth simply gets overpowered at a certain point by the cold.

Indeed, it’s a good job there are limitations. Feeling cold doesn’t just keep us informed about our surroundings; it also serves a vital survival function. Principally, it incentivises us to wrap up warm in the morning, turn up the thermostat and sit all day indoors in our coats. That way, we protect or vital organs by keeping our core temperature healthy, helping stave-off illness and so forth.

Still, it is quite cool-no-pun-intended to know this life hack is there should we need it. Indeed, it’s one of many other ways we can trick our bodies into feeling warmer than they actually are: and besides, if your options are to sit in the snow and catch a cold or sit in the snow and not realise you’re catching a cold, the latter is probably best. 

James Stannard

James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.