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Nostalgia can reduce perception of pain, study finds


Nostalgia – that sentimental feeling of nostalgia for the past – can reduce the perception of pain, according to a new study published in the journal JNeurosci.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Liaoning Normal University asked study participants to rate their level of pain from thermal stimulation while watching nostalgic images – depicting old cartoons, childhood games or retro sweets – compared to more modern images. During the tasks, an MRI machine also scanned the 34 participants.

The researchers found that viewing images triggering childhood memories was linked to participants reporting weaker feelings of pain.

“By managing their discomfort, rather than eliminating or reducing (unpleasant) stimuli, people can use nostalgia to reframe their painful experiences,” said Joe Yazhuo Kong, one of the study’s authors, in an email.

“Nostalgia is a mostly positive emotion that people easily perceive in their lives,” said Kong, leader of a research group at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Integrative Pain Neuroimaging Laboratory. “For example, people can feel happy and peaceful when browsing through their grouped photos with family or friends.”
Previous studies have also demonstrated the psychological and emotional benefits of nostalgia. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology showed that nostalgia – triggered by a writing task – decreased the perception of pain intensity in people with chronic pain. Other research found that people had an increased tolerance for pain following nostalgic thoughts, according to Cathy Cox, an associate professor of psychology at Texas Christian University.

“It’s cool to find more and more research that bridges the overlap between these psychological and emotional constructs that we study, and these biological and behavioral responses,” said Cox, a psychologist who specializes in nostalgia. She was not affiliated with the study.

Because it’s both rare and expensive to use MRIs for psychological research, Cox says, not much was known about the biological mechanisms underlying these positive nostalgia effects.

“During this process of nostalgia-induced pain relief, the thalamus plays a crucial role,” Kong told CNN.

The thalamus, often described as the brain’s relay station, is responsible for transmitting sensory information and motor signals to the cerebral cortex. The new study showed that the thalamus takes in this “nostalgic information” and triggers a better-controlled pain response. Viewing nostalgic photos also decreased activity in two areas of the brain linked to pain.

Photos are not the only ones to elicit positive reactions due to nostalgia. Music, movies, childhood toys, or certain stories can also trigger them.

And it’s not just old photos that can trigger positive nostalgia reactions – music, movies, or certain stories can also trigger them. The same goes for smells, like perfume, or the taste of certain foods, like childhood sweets or cookies that remind someone of home.

All of these nostalgia triggers could prove useful in the future in providing people with cheap and easily accessible pain management tools.

Cox and Julie Swets, a doctoral candidate at Texas Christian University, are also working on research on how nostalgia can be used as a resource to manage conflict in romantic relationships and increase satisfaction between partners.

But Swets warned that using nostalgia for pain relief might not be a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. Previous studies point out that nostalgia is a personal emotional experience that varies in frequency and intensity.
Expressing gratitude can improve your relationships and make those around you happier.

“What nostalgia is is that sense of connection with others,” Swets said, noting that cues from many studies are designed to make people think of good times with family and friends. “So people who are a bit more shy of intimacy with other people, or more likely to prefer distance over close relationships…those people don’t reap the same benefits of nostalgia.”

As with other positive psychology interventions, such as practicing mindfulness or gratitude, the impacts can depend on the person.
The researchers involved in the new JNeurosci study also intend to use different age groups in future research and examine the impacts of more personal nostalgic cues rather than generic nostalgia such as music and movies. old.

“We expect a much stronger analgesic effect if participants observe personal scenarios, regardless of visual or non-visual cues,” Kong told CNN.


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