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Why are we drawn to the past?, with Jannine Lasaleta

A talk with Jannine Lasaleta, who’s done research on the effects of nostalgia. Her research has shown how nostalgia makes us more loose and carefree with money. We talk about why nostalgia is such a positive and attractive feeling for humans: how it can be a way for us to build meaning, establish consistency of our selves over time, and combat existential angst. We also talk about Lasaleta’s work showing that nostalgia makes people more likely to make healthier consumption choices. We also talk about common human desires for experiences that seem authentic, old-fashioned, or traditional, and how those may relate to nostalgia.

Jannine is an associate professor at Yeshiva University (her university page). She will occasionally be blogging at Psychology Today.

Episode links:

Topics discussed:

  • How remembrances of good times and our social connections can relieve anxiety.
  • Why is it that nostalgia makes us less concerned about money?
  • Why the past can feel more real and authentic.
  • How traditional or old-fashioned activities can be stress-relieving because we are following established guidelines and not having to create something new.
  • Hedonic consumption research: studying what makes someone enjoy or get bored of the same frequently served food.
  • Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan and nostalgia for an earlier America.
  • Theoretical political/governmental applications of using nostalgia in messaging.

Related or discussed resources:

Transcript

Here is a transcript of the podcast. Note that there are some errors present. 

Zach Elwood: Welcome to the People Who Read People podcast. I’m Zachary Elwood. This is a podcast about understanding people. You can learn more about it at behavior-podcast.com. In today’s interview recorded September 14th, 2021, I talk to Jannine Lasaleta who’s researched the psychological effects of nostalgia. One of her research findings is that when people are feeling nostalgic they care less about money. They’re more willing to spend it or give it away. And this can help explain why we see so many companies use nostalgia and retro elements in their marketing and product packaging and such. Jannine and I talk about that and what the factors behind that are, we talk about people’s desire for authentic experiences and products and brands and what authenticity means in that context, we talk about the desire many people seem to have for old fashioned traditional pastimes, and we talk about how all of these things may overlap a bit and how they’re related. I got interested in this topic recently thinking about how a lot of people seem drawn to activities associated with nostalgia or old fashioned or traditional or even ancient concepts.

 To give you just a few examples, this would be things like people getting into old video games or video game systems, getting into making one’s own soap, getting into raising animals or butchering one’s own meat, getting into wine making or beer making, getting into beekeeping, getting into ancient paleo or caveman diets, getting into Eastern medicine, which has a much more ancient tradition than Western medicine. Then you’ve got all sorts of products and experiences that market themselves using nostalgia or using elements of tradition and ancientness and such, even when they don’t have much to do with those things. These are just a few examples. And to be clear, I’m not denigrating being drawn towards such things. I’ve just been interested in how and why old seeming things can be attractive. And I have an interest in existential psychology which theorizes that much of what drives our behaviors is related to a few core anxieties that are likely to be present for all humans, fear of death, fear of meaninglessness, fear of isolation, fear of freedom. And so I’m interested in how nostalgia or a longing for the past may represent various ways to assuage such anxieties. A little more about Jannine Lasaleta, her research focuses on how nostalgia affects consumer attitudes, behaviors, and choices across varying contexts, for example, politics or health. Her work also examines the motivation for money, product choice, and hedonic consumption. And we talk a little bit about her hedonic consumption work at the end of the podcast. Her research has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Food Quality and Preference. And her work’s been featured in multiple media outlets like BBC, CNN, Fortune, and Forbes. Also maybe of interest, towards the end of the podcast we talk about some other things, including a little bit about politics, we talk a bit about Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan and how that can relate to nostalgia and about how nostalgia research might be harnessed by political or governmental communications. We talk about using nostalgia to influence or manipulate people. We talk about the Danish concept of hygge and how that may be related to nostalgia. We talk about other psychology research Jannine has done related to what’s called hedonic consumption. With that work she studied what it is that makes people tired of having the same foods and strategies for making people continue to enjoy the same foods even when they have them over and over. 

Okay, here’s the interview with Jannine Lasaleta. Hi, Jannine. Thanks for coming on.

Jannine Lasaleta: Oh, I’m happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Zach Elwood: So maybe a good place to start is defining nostalgia. How do you define nostalgia?

Jannine Lasaleta: I define nostalgia the same way the new Oxford dictionary of English does. In my work and the work of my colleagues, we define nostalgia as a sentimental longing for a personally experienced past.

Zach Elwood: Would you say that that can be nostalgia for something in your own life or can it be outside of your own personal experience? Can it be like history?

Jannine Lasaleta: So that’s a good question. So there’s two main ways that nostalgia has been defined in the literature. And one is the first way as a sentimental longing for a personally experienced past. It means a past that you yourself have experienced. So for me, I could be nostalgic for the, and I’m kind of nostalgic sometimes for the 1980s or the 1990s. But according to this definition, I could not be nostalgic for the roaring ’20s or the dirty ’30s because I was not around for that time. So I could not personally experience it. However, there’s another definition of nostalgia or conceptualization of nostalgia that is by Holbrook and colleagues, and basically it’s a preference for anything that was from a past or from the past. It could be personally experienced or it could be historical nostalgia. So there’s also work in historical nostalgia, which is also quite interesting. But in my work thus far, I’ve primarily been focusing on personal nostalgia. And for it to be personal, it has to be something that you had experienced personally yourself.

Zach Elwood: Can you talk a little bit about your work on nostalgia and consumerism?

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, absolutely. When I was thinking about or looking for a dissertation topic, one thing that I noticed is there was a lot of nostalgic or retro styling in stores, etc. So I really love aesthetics and how things look like. And I would notice that every so often Hershey’s, might have a throwback wrapper for their chocolate bar or, I was in Minnesota at the time and General Mills every so often has like throwback packaging for–

Zach Elwood: Sodas do that.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, absolutely like Pepsi, in particular, Pepsi would have a throwback Pepsi soda with the older packaging and also the older formulas where they use real sugar versus, I think, corn syrup. Those are things I noticed in the marketplace. So I was wondering why is nostalgia, it seems to always be used or it was used so frequently, and not only marketing products but also promotions. Sometimes there’s this, I can’t believe it’s not butter promotion, I don’t know if you remember it. It was an ad and there were… I forget the name of the family, but it was a family from like the ’60s or ’50s. So I was wondering why it was used so often. I was thinking, “Well, maybe one reason nostalgia might be so successful in marketing is that it makes people spend their money more easily.” That’s how I started on my nostalgia work.

Zach Elwood: And you did several studies demonstrating exactly that.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, so many studies. I think people that are not in this academic domain might not realize that we run so many studies to make sure that our effect can be replicated, that our effects can be replicated using different conceptualizations or operationalizations of what our dependent variable is. In other words, when I did my nostalgia and money work, not only did I look at the overall theme or the overall hypothesis was that nostalgia decreases the desire for money. And by that I meant the desire to have money, to earn money, to hold onto money. So I looked at things like people’s attitudes towards money, how important they think it is or in some other studies, I endowed people with actual money and observed how much they gave away if they were nostalgic or not, if they were in a nostalgic condition versus control condition.

Zach Elwood: What do you think the psychological causes are behind that for thinking of money as less important?

Jannine Lasaleta: When I was looking out in the marketplace, I saw nostalgic was prevalent not only in products but promotions for products or for brands, etc. And I thought, “Well, maybe one reason that nostalgia is so prevalent is because people are less motivated to hold onto their money, right? Their desire for money is less.” I was thinking, “Well, how can that be?” So I’m like, “Well, money is so important for us as a society because we use money in exchange for goods and services, right?” But if you think about it, we don’t always have money, especially when we’re younger. I think about times when I was a graduate student as well. If I moved, you’d ask your friends. Or if I went to a conference and came back, I’d ask one of my friends to pick me up from the airport because I didn’t have money then. So we can access these same kind of things through the help of our friends and family or through money, right? So people that are completely independent, they don’t need to rely on other people theoretically because they can get everything they want with money. Like even you can get companionship with money, right? Kids, they don’t make money, but they’re fed, right? They’re fed, they have clothing, etc. Money’s not as important to them because they can access these goods and services… I don’t think they think about it this way, but they can access goods and services through their social support and social connections.

Zach Elwood: Less existential anxiety around having to perform. They’re less stressed about surviving, yeah.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. So I thought, “Well maybe when we’re nostalgic and because we’re filled with thoughts of close significant others and we feel more socially supported, money might not be as important because we have the sense that we can access these goods and services through connections with other people versus having to access them through money.”

Zach Elwood: So you also had a study about being reminded about friendships had a similar effect on making people more loose with money. Is that right?

Jannine Lasaleta: Do you remember what experiment that was?

Zach Elwood: Oh, it was with friends like these who needs money.

Jannine Lasaleta: So that’s a project that it’s still not published yet, it’s still underway, but it takes the same idea, right? It looks at not just social support through nostalgia, but just feeling socially supported itself. Does feeling socially supported, does it offset… In a way you can think about feeling socially supported offsets the need or the desire for money.

Zach Elwood: When I read about your work, and maybe I’m just phrasing it differently, but the thing that pops out to me is when people are reminded of meaningful things like the things that actually matter in life, like their friends, family, their experiences, it just makes us get out of that more competitive kind of rat race mindset. A bit like our day-to-day life, we’re focused on money a lot, we’re focused on making it, we’re focused on getting by and the stress of that. But then, yeah, I think I’m saying the same thing, basically, that people feel more at ease when they remember that, “Oh, I have a social network and I have these meaningful connections, so I’m less worried about money and I’m more likely to spend it because I’m focusing on what’s really important in my life.” Does that make sense?

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, it totally makes sense. It might be a little bit of a different take on the substitutability between or the offsetting money versus social support as a means to get things. But I do agree that when we think about our friends and our family, we kind of shift onto intrinsic kind of rewards or values, our motivations, that’s a better way to put it. So I think when we don’t think about our friends and family, we’re more extrinsically motivated. We want to get that money, we want to get that paper, we want to become successful. But when you think about friends and family, it will shift it towards a more extrinsic kind of motivation or reward system.

Zach Elwood: Yeah. I think we’re talking about a similar thing, but yeah, I see it might be just a different angle or focus. But I mean, that definitely rings a bell for me when I think about the past or friendships which seem very related because your positive memories are often about friendships and the experiences you’ve had with people. It makes me think like, “Oh, why am I so worried about money? These things don’t matter. I mean, yeah, just on that narrative kind of aspect about it, it makes a lot of sense, yeah.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, it’s definitely compatible, right? Because in my work I look at how priorities change when people are nostalgic. And what you’re saying is also priorities change when we think about our friends and our family.

Zach Elwood: Does anything stand out as being a really surprising finding in your research where you were like, “Oh, didn’t expect to see that.”

Jannine Lasaleta: Not necessarily surprised but kind of surprised. Like pleasantly surprised that the nostalgia effect, this is what I call it in my dissertation, that when people are nostalgic, their desire for money decreases, their motivation to have, hold onto, or make money decreases. That works not only for people’s attitudes, but we actually give people money. And when people were nostalgic versus not, they actually gave it away. We endowed people with $4.75, there were two different conditions, an ordinary life condition or a nostalgic condition. And each condition people had to think about a past event. The difference was in the ordinary life event condition, it was just something, an everyday kind of thing. And in the nostalgia event condition, they had to think about… They were given a definition of nostalgia, a sentimental longing for a personally experienced past, and then they had to think about a nostalgic event. And in that condition, they played this game, which isn’t really a game, it’s like a one-shot game, it really doesn’t seem like a game. It’s called the dictator game, where there is someone that is endowed with an amount of money and they have to decide how much they’re going to keep for themselves and how much they give to the other person. And that’s the end of the game. They gave him $4.75. So everybody in the study, they thought they could either be the person endowed or the person receiving. And they had to pick… It’s a classic psychology experiment. They had to pick a slip from the hat that says which role they did, but all the slips said they would be the one that would be endowed with the money. They had to decide how much they would keep themselves, then put how much they wanted to give to someone else in an envelope. And we found consistently that those in the nostalgia condition give away more money. It was really cool to see that happening. It didn’t make the final published version, but it was in my dissertation as well. We played a public goods game where people were in teams and they had to decide how much they were going to put in. There are say four players, and everybody’s endowed with… We didn’t have this much money, but 10 bucks. And they have to decide how much they want to put into this communal pot. And then that pot gets multiplied by maybe 1.5 or 2. So it’s in the best interest for everybody to put as much money as they can in the pot. The money, it gets equaled whatever the pot is, it gets equally divided by the players. But there’s also a selfish component, you could just keep that $10 for yourself and not put any and still reap the benefits. We found that when people are on the nostalgic condition, they put more money into the pot. So they gave away more money at the beginning. So it’s really cool to see it happening and it’s in so many different ways. So we have different, we call them operationalizations of desire for money. And one was the dictator game, one was that public goods game, another operationalization was asking people’s attitudes about money. One really cool one that I asked people, I gave them a snippet for some reason had sound effects from, I think, a Sony sound effects CD set, it was a long time ago, a CD set. And there were these horrible, horrible sounds. I think there was a car crash and someone playing the violin really poorly, a rooster, etc. And I gave people a snippet of each of them. And I asked how long they would be willing to listen to them in order to get $5 or something, I don’t know what the exact amount. And the logic was that the longer people would endure something horrible for money means that they want money more. It’s like when you think about a different situation your… I will line up for this free, which I have in New York, there’s a free scoop of ice cream for like half an hour, right? If I didn’t care about the ice cream, I wouldn’t. I mean, that’s a different resource, but what I found was the same thing, right? So people that were in nostalgic state, they would not listen to it that long because it wasn’t that important to them. Also willingness to pay for products, people were willing to pay more when they’re nostalgic cause the logic was if you don’t care about money that much, you’ll more easily spend more of it. So we found that when people were in nostalgic state by and large across durables, non-durables, high-end, low-end products experiences versus products you can hold in your hand, people were willing to spend more when they were in the nostalgic condition. It was very cool that we saw or that I saw the effect across many different types of operationalizations.

Zach Elwood: Do you think this was a known by companies even informally? The fact that a company like Pepsi or Coke or whatever would notice that when they did retro nostalgic things their sales went up, do you think it was well known in the industry, even if they hadn’t like specifically studied it?

Jannine Lasaleta: I suppose it was well known enough. I would see it so often. Why would you have the throwback every so often? It’s not only just one time, so.

Zach Elwood: It’s almost like they didn’t need to study it cause it was so obvious for them that they got results.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, absolutely. It was like it wasn’t broken. So, you know.

Zach Elwood: Just keep doing it, yeah. And you mentioned, I think you mentioned in your paper, maybe it was someone else, but you mentioned the non-profit implications of trying to raise funds for charities or whatever. You could do some psychological influence there by using nostalgia to your benefit.

Jannine Lasaleta: Absolutely, yeah. I think nostalgia is very easy to implement because everybody is nostalgic about things, and you can even just write nostalgic with a question mark. Even there’s stimuli from one of the studies in the way it work, and it was done a while ago. So it was for Kodak, but we just used a picture of a family and we asked people to think about memories from their past or think about memories from the future. And even though the picture wasn’t of them, of course, eventually you can prompt them to think about their own past.

Zach Elwood: And are you saying that even just the word nostalgia can make people nostalgic?

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah. I think it can. Absolutely, yeah.

Zach Elwood: It’s like shortcuts to our feelings. Yeah. One random thing that I just thought of is I was thinking about how casinos might make use of this. And it struck me that there’s a lot of casinos in Vegas and elsewhere that have a really old fashioned vibe, they haven’t updated their stuff in a while. It looks really old. And I used to think that was just because they were lazy or didn’t want to spend the money to update, but now I’m wondering maybe that’s a purposeful thing to kind of look kind of throwback like you haven’t changed.

Jannine Lasaleta: It could be. I think about the Riviera or something. Is that the Riviera that’s just…

Zach Elwood: Yeah, there’s a few in Vegas where I’m like, “This looks really old. Why didn’t you do more with this?” But, yeah, if anybody’s thinking about how to loosen people monetarily, it’s the casinos. Yeah. And the reason I’ve been interested in these topics is I sometimes think about how the desire for nostalgia or more authentic or old-fashioned seeming experiences can be a way to combat existential angst and existential fears of meaninglessness or fears of death, things like that. And as the modern world seems to produce more loneliness and stress in that regard, there’s polls showing that loneliness has increased over the past few decades and disconnectedness. So I’ve been interested in how those things relate. And I’m curious, do you see a connection to the stress of the modern world and our desire for nostalgia or authenticity or whatever?

Jannine Lasaleta: I definitely see it. I was talking to someone else about this the other day and anxiety and interruptions in our day-to-day life. People are more lonely these days. These are all things that would make nostalgia more attractive to people. Nostalgia even though… I don’t think I mentioned this earlier, but initially nostalgia was used to describe homesickness. It was a disorder, something that caused pain. But what more and more research is showing is that when people feel a decrease in social support or when they don’t feel so good about themselves, they feel like their life is meaningless, they turn to nostalgia. So it might be spurred on spontaneously or they’ll be drawn to nostalgic things. So I think definitely… We see it a lot during the pandemic, there’s so many more throwback Thursdays or flashback Fridays, half the new content on Netflix is reboots of old sitcoms like Full House or, I don’t think this is on Netflix, but there’s a new Wonder Years coming out soon, etc. So I think nostalgia I think is also… They always say nostalgia is at an all time high, but I really do think that… But it always is. I mean, because we always feel good all the time. And I think now there’s more of a reach for nostalgic things because people are under duress. The same thing with maybe looking for authentic experiences, I think authentic experiences and nostalgic experiences as well, or waxing nostalgic as well plus authenticity brings a sense of meaningfulness or continuity. If it’s something authentic, it might not be something that, this is a little bit different than nostalgic or it overlaps, but it’s not entirely a hundred percent overlap with nostalgia. Authenticity, doing something authentic it’s kind of meaningful because it feels real. There’s a tradition of X, Y, and Z, me doing it makes me feel more authentic and that makes me feel good about myself or it makes me feel that I’m doing something meaningful or participating in something meaningful.

Zach Elwood: Right. Yeah. I mean, maybe this is a good part to talk about that link to the desire for authenticity and the desire for nostalgia because they do seem very much related to me. Like you said, it’s the desire for something real and you can perceive the past is more real than the present because it’s closer to the source of something. We know that the present is us just reacting to things. And it seems like it could go many different ways, but the past is closer to something or seems closer to something real in the same way that our nostalgic experiences seem more real or closer to the source. Maybe you have some thoughts on the link between authenticity and nostalgia.

Jannine Lasaleta: Could you unpack a little bit why you think or the reasoning why being authentic is more to the sore or the past is more–

Zach Elwood: Well, yeah, no, that’s a good question cause I don’t think it is obvious. Cause I was reading a lot of studies on, not your stuff, but studies about the desire for authentic experiences and authentic things. There’s a study showing, not surprisingly, that when you’re shown a painting, if you’re told that it’s an original Rembrandt or whatever, you appreciate it more, it actually fires off more appreciation things in the brain than if you’re told it’s a copy. And so we desire things that seem more real close to the source, authentic. And you can kind of perceive the past as being… Well, especially if we talk about like modern life being more artificial. We’ve created all these artificial experiences, the things we do in our day-to-day lives become more and more artificial in the sense that people are creating our experiences. And so the past seems more authentic because it wasn’t a human creation. There were experiences that were more natural or at least seemed more closer to the old days where we didn’t have these artificial experiences. So I kind of see them all kind of linked, whether it’s nostalgia or appreciation of an original painting or appreciation of a draw towards these like cavemen diets or wanting to make our own beer or wanting to make our own wine, whatever it may be. We want something that hasn’t been polluted by humanity or something.

Jannine Lasaleta: So the authentic experiences would be… So on the flip side, what would be something… You were saying that presently there’s all these human made experiences that are not so authentic. Can you give me an example of that?

Zach Elwood: In the modern world, many of us live in cities or towns where we go out to the store, we might go spend a significant amount of our days in artificial environments, whether that’s stores or homes or buildings. And then we watch artificial experiences in the media. And so it’s kind of like the Solaris thing, the movie Solaris, was all about the artificiality of our surroundings in the modern world and our craving for something that seemed more real. So that’s what I mean, it’s like in the old days there’s the perception that we were less part of that human made creation and closer to something that was more real, but I guess basically nature.

Jannine Lasaleta: So the question is what I think the overlap is or the parallels between people craving nostalgia versus people craving authenticity.

Zach Elwood: Yeah. And I think you kind of answered it already. I think you basically saw a connection there and would you agree they’re similar attracting forces basically when people are attracted to old-fashioned ways of doing things, whether that’s farming or getting back in touch with the land or Eastern medicine even, things like this. Do you see a connection there between those kinds of draws and our draw towards nostalgia?

Jannine Lasaleta: I think in both cases, people are trying to find something more meaningful. And when I think about everybody was making sourdough or I remember during the pandemic at one point me and all my friends, I don’t know if you saw it, but you can like repot scallions in water and it will regrow. So we were all doing that. And I think in a sense it was giving us some… We were also probably bored. But when people are bored, there’s some research that has shown that when people are bored, they feel more that their life has less meaning. So we’re doing these things and maybe these things that are more authentic and to get some type of meaning back into our lives. So I think they’re similar on that level.

Zach Elwood: Exactly. Yeah. I think you’ve hit it because that’s what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how what really ties all of this together is just people not wanting to be bored and not wanting to feel like they’re not doing anything meaningful. And so whether it’s nostalgic experience or whether it’s something that’s perceived as some traditional experience, whatever it may be, there may be many other things. But they all fall under the umbrella of we just hate the idea of stagnation and meaninglessness. And so we’re looking for ways to accomplish that. Yeah. So I think you’ve hit what’s going on there pretty well in my humble opinion. And another interesting thing, I think about the tradition, following traditional things like whether it’s sourdough or making your own soap or things like this, these traditional things. I think there can be a sense of calm there too because it gives us a guidebook of things to do, things to follow. I don’t have to decide something new or something less tested. It’s like we’re following in the footsteps of people and by putting tradition on a sort of a pedestal like that, it has a calming influence. Do you think there’s something to that too?

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, absolutely. I think traditions are in themselves are meaningful. And I agree that when there’s a tradition of doing a certain thing in a certain way, it decreases a lot of ambiguity or decreases our anxiety about what we need to be doing in that moment or how we have to prepare something. I was thinking about… So this past Christmas, I wasn’t able to see my family, my family’s in Canada and I’m in New York. And I was thinking about the traditions that we have, and I did them here in New York and I was especially nostalgic for them. And I was lonely because I wasn’t with them. And it just made things a little better because they were meaningful. And I think many of our traditions that we learn are through our families and through our friends. So altogether, I think, they really can help people in times of stress or duress.

Zach Elwood: Yeah, might be getting too philosophical, but it’s like there’s that terror management theory of how many things we do are to abate our sense of existential terror. And I think that there has gotten a lot of criticism, but I can really relate to that in my own life, just that it feels like the things that draw on me are things that abate, that they kind of attempt to eliminate my fear that things are meaningless or that there’s the abyss, so to speak. We’re drawn to these things that seem to set us at ease a bit in that regard.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, or to buffer it. There’s work, you’ve probably come across it on nostalgia and terror management theory, where nostalgia acts as a defense in the face of existential threat, so.

Zach Elwood: Oh, I haven’t seen that. Okay, I’ll have to check that out.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, it’s the terror management function of nostalgia. It’s Clay Routledge.

Zach Elwood: Oh, right. Maybe I did see that cause that name rings a bell. Yeah, okay. Anything else stand out that we haven’t covered that you want to mention?

Jannine Lasaleta: You know we’re talking about authenticity and what makes somebody authentic is being true to the self and acting like themselves across different situations, or when you think about what makes you you, it can be your hobbies or things you do outside of your work or even in your work to some extent or probably to many people’s extent, but they don’t want to admit it. When the pandemic hit, all of these things were disrupted. So usually I have a running crew uptown called We Run Uptown. I would meet with them every single Monday, basically, almost when I moved to New York a couple of years ago. And that was something I did. And I’m not a task runner, but, I was a runner. And this was kind of my crew, my group that I would see once a week, it was something meaningful to me. But when the pandemic hit, nobody was getting together anymore. And other things I would do, I would just do small things, just go shopping downtown or go to the green market, which I think kind of stayed open. But I was too afraid to do those things. So when we had all these disruptions, I kind of lost the sense of what made me me, and I was drawn to more nostalgic things. I would listen to… I really love ’90s hip hop. I don’t know if it’s on anywhere, but I used to be a hip hop director at a radio station and I had an underground hip hop show for several years, which is still on in some way shape or form 20 years later which is very weird. And so I would listen to a lot of hip hop, these things that made me me. I felt less authentic and I felt less… Maybe not explicitly less authentic, but I did not feel like myself. In this time, I would watch nostalgic shows or I listened to nostalgic music.

Zach Elwood: No. Yeah, totally. I think the way that COVID disrupted people is really not understood. I think people focus on the financial aspect, but there was such an… Even if you were doing well financially, there’s an existential disruption. there looking for meaning that wasn’t there previously. I know people in Portland, especially in Portland, Oregon, where we’ve had a lot of good amount of violent stuff and riots and things like that. I personally know people that they were not like that, they were out there doing those things and they were not like that a year before, they changed substantially. And I think there was for a lot of people… That’s just one example, but I think a lot of people went through a disruption of their sense of meaning. I had this plan for what I was doing, and then I cannot pursue that anymore. And especially for younger people, I feel like that’s very disruptive to feel like, “Oh, I’ve got this plan and now I am adrift, don’t know what to do with myself. And yeah, I think that’s underappreciated I feel like and in no way am I giving excuses for the January 6th stuff, but I feel like that’s a factor for some of those people too in the sense that COVID has been very existentially disruptive to a lot of people. And I feel like if COVID hadn’t been going on, some of the things that happened over the past year would have taken different forms I think.

Jannine Lasaleta: I totally agree with you. I think a lot of us are bored and trying to find meaning. And there are these opportunities that were there that people could kind of reassert what their meaning is, be it protesting in the streets against racial inequality or I guess, protesting at The Capitol to try to assert or engage in the values that were consistent with that.

Zach Elwood: Right. It can almost be a violent thing in the sense that if your continuity, your sense of self and your goals get wiped out, it’s almost like you need to look for something quick to replace that. I felt like that happened to a lot of people where it’s like I quickly need something very strong to re-establish my sense of meaning. I think that can be kind of a violent shift for some people.

Jannine Lasaleta: Absolutely. People were threatened. I think to an extent we were all threatened. And not only by the virus, by everything. So there were so many threats to themselves. So I think it’s a prime time for nostalgia, which is a way that… It’s a comfort and I think it’s a good way to just like I’m not feeling so good, why not indulge in these things? And there’s not really harm. If anything, it will motivate you to reach out to your friends and family. So I think nostalgia is a great way of battling these things. And I think that one thing that’s great about this nostalgia research is that by and large nostalgia does so many great things for people. That’s what we’ve found so far. And even though you might think it’s a little bit sad, and it is sad, there’s a bit of logging. It’s bittersweet. But the sweet outweighs the bitter so much.

Zach Elwood: Do you see a connection to the Danish word hygge or however you say that? You know what I’m talking about? Do you see a connection there?

Jannine Lasaleta: I’m not so familiar with hygge. I only know it in terms of design and aesthetics. Can you explain it a bit more for me?

Zach Elwood: Well, I’m just reading the Oxford dictionary definition that says a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture. I don’t know much about it myself, but it just suddenly occurred to me. It’s almost like a place version of nostalgia. Presumably you have to have some nostalgic feelings to have a feeling of contentment about coziness or a sense of place. So it kind of struck me that it might be very much connected, just another form of nostalgia almost.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, there definitely could be some type of overlap. I think hygge when I think of it, I just think of people with socks on in front of a fireplace or something.

Zach Elwood: Right. I guess it’s a feeling, it’s not necessarily place, I might be misspeaking there. But I guess they have things that they describe as a place, a room embodies hygge or whatever. But yeah, probably just related in the sense that they bring a sense of comfort.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, absolutely.

Zach Elwood: Is there any other psychology work that you’ve done that really stands out as something you’re proud of besides the nostalgia work?

Jannine Lasaleta: There’s another project actually about nostalgia that was published earlier this year, which I guess this could also go underneath surprising findings. We found in a series of experiments that nostalgia actually increased healthy consumption and decreased unhealthy consumption. The theory was also grounded in social support. We thought, “Well, maybe nostalgia might influence healthy eating behaviors cause if we think about close friends and family, it makes us feel socially supported.” And there’s this work, not my work, but this body of work that shows when people feel more supported that this increases self-control. So people will better control their urges to eat something unhealthy or they’ll eat more healthy things. So nostalgia can be seen as a self-regulatory force. We had students come in, they either wrote about a nostalgic event or an ordinary life event. And once again, these are both events from their past. After, students were given a small bag, and the bag either had peanut M&M’s or they had baby carrots. And we found that where there was a nostalgic condition, they ate less M&M’s and they ate more carrots compared to those in the regular condition or the control condition.

Zach Elwood: I mean, that makes a lot of sense. It’s getting at kind of the stuff we talked about before, where memories and connection give us meaning and protect us against worst case scenarios. And it’s kind of why abuse and trauma and those experiences are so sad because they set people up to not care about themselves. When you have connections, when you have good experiences, it makes you care more about yourself. And yeah, I think that’s kind of getting at the heart of it there, yeah.

Jannine Lasaleta: Sometimes people think because I’m a marketing academic that all the stuff that I do is about nostalgia and money, we’re just trying to get people to spend their money, we’re trying to get firms to be richer, etc.

Zach Elwood: Manipulate people, yeah.

Jannine Lasaleta: I used to teach in France and I taught this class about… I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bob Cialdini’s influence.

Zach Elwood: Oh yeah, I love that book.

Jannine Lasaleta: So actually, half the course is me teaching Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath, and how to make sticky messages so people remember them. And the other half is Bob Cialdini’s. And I just teach them the principles of influence in France. I’m like, “Oh, it’s influence.” And they’re like… I think my French students were trying to translate it. They’re like, “Oh, manipulation.” But, no, it’s not necessarily manipulation. But this work in nostalgia and money can… And you mentioned it earlier, it can be put to good use if you want to elicit donations from people for a good cause, I feel like this is something that people can use. And it also has been demonstrated that nostalgia can be used for charitable donations. One thing I was thinking about though Zachary is that the social component about nostalgia, when we think about our friends and family, this could be something that can be used to enforce different… I also don’t know how political people are when they listen to your podcast, Zachary, but it can be used to help, I want to say enforce but…

Zach Elwood: Persuade.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, persuade people to wear their mask or to get vaccinated or socially distance, to do these things that it’s been so hard for us to implement. If we think about keeping our family members safe, we also talked about how priorities shift when we’re nostalgic. So when we’re nostalgic, we might care about money less and friendships more. Maybe we care about our personal freedoms less and our collective health more. That could be something, I don’t know, it hasn’t been tested, but given that nostalgia leads people to put social connections at the forefront and our friends and family at the forefront, that might be helpful for the positioning of getting people to wear masks or getting people to be vaccinated.

Zach Elwood: That totally makes sense. It’s like the map over from if you’re not caring about money, you’re also presumably not that greedy in other ways and you’re more collective focused. Yeah.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah. I think these things can be used for the greater good.

Zach Elwood: Getting on the political tangent, interestingly, when I was listening to things about nostalgia, some of the interviews touched on the so-called dark side of nostalgia, and it would mention the Trump campaign and the Make America Great Again slogan, which interestingly enough to me, there’s nothing that offensive about the slogan itself because you can imagine it pertaining to the fact that America has lost its manufacturing base. And its middle-class has suffered a lot, things like that. So for me, the focus on the seemingly negative interpretations of the Make America Great Again thing, well obviously, Trump plays a role in the negative associations, but if we’re just talking about the slogan…. Oh, and the other interesting thing about that too is Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton both at one point use the Make America Great Again slogan for themselves. That was an interesting detail too. And if they had used it, presumably they would have focused on the high points that Democrats perceive, the fact that we lost our manufacturing base and looking back at the better times when there was a stronger middle class, things like that. So to me, the focus that that’s necessarily just a bigoted view of the past or a longing for some… Basically, there’s very negative interpretations put on that which I don’t think necessarily have to apply just based on looking back fondly on American history. And I was going to say too, he kind of makes me think of… It seems like Democrats could use those kinds of things more in their messaging where it’s like

it shouldn’t only be conservatives that are looking back fondly or nostalgic messages. There’s definitely a space for those messages, but as we’ve seen, I don’t think the… I feel Democrats or liberals in general have kind of rejected that fond looking back at the past due to the fact conservatives seem to have claimed it, which I don’t think needs to apply. I think you could have… I think people of all political spectrums can find ways to look back fondly at certain things. And as you’ve shown, there can be positive persuasive aspects to that. But anyway, a long soapbox there, but I’ve been thinking about those things too.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah. I have work we had published about what kind of messaging is more effective for Democrats versus Republicans. And I think it reflects what you said too. It’s kind of nuance cause thinking about the past but thinking about what from the past.

Zach Elwood: Yeah, what exactly?

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, definitely both parties can be nostalgic, but it’s about what. And I think when you think about the Trump campaign, he is telling you or the campaign’s telling you what are the things that America… I’m not American by the way, but what things you should be nostalgic for. And I think that resonated with that particular segment. So I think it would be interesting. And I think it would be interesting to see what type of nostalgia would attract both sides. If you wanted somebody that was Republican to switch and vote for a Democratic etc.

Zach Elwood: Yeah. And that’s what gets me about it, is I think, I mean, I think if you were to ask the average Trump supporter what that meaning of that phrase means, I think it would be about the working class and things like that and middle class. I think it gets… Obviously, I think there’s also some [dig] people on the Trump support side, don’t get me wrong, but I think it gets a bad rep in the sense that I think there’s things that there’s much more common ground, I think, than people suppose. If I was a politician, I would be focused on like, “Oh yes, we can agree there are certain things in the past that everyone can look back fondly on. Or there are certain ways that we’ve let our poor and middle class people down,” things like that. I think there’s just a lot of common ground and the very polarized nature of our society makes if one group has this thing, then the other group has to be against it kind of tendency. I just don’t think that needs to apply. I think politicians do themselves a disservice by not trying to bring people together more and say, “Oh, there are these things that we all really want. Yeah.

Jannine Lasaleta: And we all have in common, I think, yeah. So I’m Canadian, but I’ve been here through the election cycle, during the last one, and also I was in Minnesota doing my dissertation, I think, both times Obama got elected. And it wasn’t so much then, but I realize now, [we’re very polarized]. 

Zach Elwood: I think I’m going to do the podcast wrap up here, but if you’re interested in psychology research, you might want to stick around to hear about some other interesting work she’s done. She’s done research on how there are ways you can manipulate people’s experiences to make them continue to enjoy pleasant but repetitious experiences, for example, like eating the same meal many times in a row. If you’d like to learn more about Jannine Lasaleta’s work, you can check out her Google scholar page. Her last name is spelled L A S A L E T A. My name is Zachary Elwood. If you’d like to learn more about this podcast and read summaries of past episodes, go to behavior-podcast.com. If you like the podcast, I very much appreciate a rating or review on iTunes, that’s greatly appreciated, as are shares on social media. I make no money on this podcast and spend a good amount of time on it. So any help you can give me getting the word out there is much appreciated. If you’d like to learn more about existential psychology, which I think explains so much about our world and people’s behaviors, I hugely recommend the book Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin Yalom, Y A L O M. I can’t say enough good things about that book. Personally, I found a life changing book. Okay. Let’s go back to Jannine explaining some of her other psychology work.

Jannine Lasaleta: So the one thing that I wanted to talk that I thought was really cool that I’ve done and that has nothing to do with nostalgia, I have a paper on consumption, hedonic consumption. So it’s the drop in enjoyment after repeated consumption. So it could be, so say I eat strawberry yogurt every single day for breakfast, over time people get sick of it, their enjoyment for eating strawberry yogurt decreases. So what are things that you can do to prolong that enjoyment, to kind of make that slope that’s going down to make it a little bit…

Zach Elwood: Get the magic back.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, yeah. So Zachary, if you ate strawberry yogurt every morning for breakfast and you’re getting sick of it, what’s one thing that you could do to make you–

Zach Elwood: Take a break and come back to it, go cold turkey.

Jannine Lasaleta: Actually, what my work shows is that when you come and take a break cold turkey, it really doesn’t help it that much because when you come back to it, you just think about all the strawberry yogurts you’ve eaten. But I think one thing that people usually would suggest, the research suggests is that you would eat blueberry yogurt Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. So when you come back to the strawberry yogurt, you’re like, “Yeah, I had strawberry yogurt, but I also had blueberry yogurt.” So I’m not so sick of the strawberry yogurt. So there’s all this work that shows when we increase variety, people have better whatever the focal product is, people’s enjoyment will be prolonged. And there’s tons of studies in the academic marketing research that shows this. But I was thinking when I was in my PhD, I was like, “Well, is this always true?” I thought about if we follow this logic, we should try to make our experiences, so what you eat for breakfast every single morning, as different as possible to prolong enjoyment for a certain product. So if the focal product’s strawberry yogurt, we should eat blueberry yogurt every other day. So we follow the logic that all the research has shown. It would probably be the best thing to eat something so different. So maybe eating a piece of pizza or breakfast burrito Tuesday, Thursday, Friday would be the best. But what ends up happening is that when our experiences are so different, we don’t put them in the same consideration set. So when we think about that strawberry yogurt, and so you did have the breakfast burrito or the pizza, you have endless pizza around. We don’t consider the pizza or the breakfast burrito in the same consumption–

Zach Elwood: Same category.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, yeah. So it’s all about… Oh, go ahead.

Zach Elwood: Oh, yeah, you’re saying you need something different enough but in the same category in order to reset your appreciation.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. So what I found in my work is that when experiences are categorically different, if people the natural categorization is different, it actually benefits us when we make the experiences more similar. So I would say maybe the burrito I would emphasize the breakfast burrito just like all the other breakfast items I’ve eaten. And I found that…

Zach Elwood: So the framing can really matter.

Jannine Lasaleta: So basically that’s what we just frame different things. So we had people come into the lab and they chose their favorite chocolate. So Hershey’s Kisses or Rolos or small Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and it was a taste test. And we just asked them to eat one and then write their enjoyment. And then every so often they would have to eat oyster crackers, two oyster crackers. And in one condition we said, “Oh, you’ll eat oyster crackers as a break, as a palate cleanser. And then the other condition we said, you’ll eat oyster crackers, which is another type of snack food.

Zach Elwood: Oh, wow.

Jannine Lasaleta: So when we told them that oyster crackers was another type of snack food, the drop in enjoyment was much less than people that were told that this is a palate cleanser.

Zach Elwood: Oh, so you’re saying when you went from one snack food and framed the oyster crackers in between as another type of snack food, when they went back to that first thing, they didn’t see the drop off because they enjoyed something in the same category, but that was different enough. Yeah.

Jannine Lasaleta: There’s a drop off in both, but the drop off was much less. So basically these studies it’s the same kind of dependent variable. It’s like, “Eat this piece of chocolate. On the scale from zero to 100, how much do you enjoy it? Zero, not at all, 100, I really enjoy it.” So every time they eat the chocolate, they rate it and it will always drop, but it drops less when we tell them that the cracker is also another type of snack food. And we found the same thing with we had people listen to Haydn, a 32nd clip, over and over again. And every so often we put nature sounds, and we tell them we’re going to listen to nature sounds every so often or we’re going to listen to nature sounds and studies have shown that the classical music reflects nature sounds, and we found the same thing. We did this same thing with… We had people listen to a U2 song, maybe With or Without You or something. And every so often, they would see Gustav Klimt The Kiss. So it was two modalities. It was listening to music and then seeing art. And then sometimes we’re like, “Oh, you’ll see this image every so often,” and then we said, “Oh, you’ll see this image every so often.” And we posed it in a way that it was also maybe about love or something, I forget now. And we saw the same–

Zach Elwood: Similar framing.

Jannine Lasaleta: Yeah, similar framing. And we also saw the same thing when we also had another condition and basically the other condition didn’t have any Gustav Klimt, and the drop in enjoyment for the condition that had no Gustav Klimt and the one that had Gustav Klimt but we didn’t say it was similar to U2, the drop was exactly the same. So people are ignoring that variety until you tell them it’s similar enough.

Zach Elwood: That seems like it has… Yeah, seems like it would have big applications to anything marketing related, anything experiential or anything food related or anything even restaurants or whatever, yeah.

Jannine Lasaleta: Or even astronauts, they have a certain amount of food. The professor I was working with, my colleague, I think he did some work looking at how to increase the enjoyment for food that you’re just eating basically over and over again because you’re in space. That’s something I think is really cool, but I didn’t really prepare so I don’t know how useful it is for the podcast. And it hasn’t gotten as much traction. The nostalgia one always gets so much traction.

Zach Elwood: People love nostalgia.

Jannine Lasaleta: People love nostalgia. And it’s really easy. When you’re nostalgic, you care about money less, boom. And this one is like it’s really hard to–

Zach Elwood: It’s subtle.

Jannine Lasaleta: It’s subtle, and it’s moderately similar, but you hit it right on the head at the beginning. There’s an optimal level of differentiation in terms of what prolongs enjoyment. So, that’s something but…

Zach Elwood: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting thinking about the implications of that. There’s probably a lot of uses for that of various sorts. Yeah. I can see why you’re interested in that. Yeah. 

This has been the People Who Read People podcast. Thanks for listening, hope you enjoyed it. Music by Small Skies.

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