Sci & Tech Writer Madison Harding-White reports on new findings that nostalgia can reduce stress and increase motivation for study
It has long been reported that high levels of intrinsic motivation- motivation driven not by external rewards but by personal enjoyment and fulfillment– has a significant relationship with academic achievement. This implies that those who find personal pleasure in their studies may be more likely to perform well in classwork compared to those who simply chase external rewards, such as pleasing their teachers. Yet, when a student perceives their work as beyond their resources and capabilities and becomes stressed, this can greatly reduce their intrinsic motivation and lead to procrastination. This phenomenon is referred to as threat appraisal.
This presents a problem in modern classrooms as personal negative feelings and motivations can be challenging to manage. However, an encouraging new study indicates that there may be a relatively simple solution to counteract negative influences upon school performance: nostalgia.
Novel nostalgia research by Olga Bialobrzeska and colleagues published in the Learning and Individual Differences Journal utilised a sample of 382 adult male and female psychology students from a university in America. Subjects reported their level of nostalgia over the past few days at the beginning of the academic semester, and then again alongside their intrinsic motivation levels towards the semester’s end. Additionally, subjects were tested for how threatening they personally perceived the class midway through the semester. Once analysed, data revealed that as expected, those who reported their class as threatening also had lower intrinsic motivation for that class.
However, for the first time, Bialobrzeska and colleagues were able to demonstrate that when students reported higher levels of nostalgia, they were also more likely to report higher levels of intrinsic motivation. This suggests that nostalgia may be able to counteract the negative relationship of high threat appraisal and low intrinsic motivation. This follows previous research that suggests that nostalgia has a stabilising effect, managing negative human emotions as nostalgia often arises during feelings of adversity and possesses the ability to neutralise them. Such results had previously been demonstrated in social but not educational settings.
These results provide grounds for the suggestion that nostalgia may be functional for use as a coping tool for students who possess negative perceptions of the classroom or their academic goals. However, as this sample used adult students these findings cannot yet be generalised to children and adolescents, who too may struggle with classroom stress. Further research is also required to investigate how nostalgia could be practically used as an educational tool by teaching staff.