MSU doctoral student researches the effects of nostalgia on health communication
It’s that feeling you get when you think about high school football games in your hometown, or how great the college years were. It’s thinking back to holidays surrounded by family and home-cooked meals. It’s that sentimental yearning for the joy experienced in another place or time. It’s nostalgia.
That’s the emotion Michigan State University doctoral student Syed Ali Hussain is studying in the School of Journalism. His research focuses on understanding the art of persuasion and social influence in the context of designing health communication campaigns.
“Nostalgia is experienced by people of all ages, culture and gender as a strong emotional appeal,” Hussain said. “It has been used extensively in the advertising industry to sell products and services. I wondered if it could also be used to promote healthy behaviors and attitudes.”
Hussain said nostalgia is most common when people are distressed or feel uncertainty. They can’t help but think of the “good old days when things were better.”
This intensified level of nostalgia during difficult times in life is what led Hussain to research its effects on depression. He is looking to persuade people to move from unhealthy to healthy behaviors. In this case, he wants to persuade individuals to go from keeping depression to themselves to seeking professional help.
As part of a study supervised by Communication Arts and Sciences Assistant Professor Saleem Alhabash, Hussain put together a video in an effort to convince individuals with depression to seek help at MSU’s counseling center. To induce nostalgia, the video used images and music to evoke the viewers’ childhood memories. However, as the video moves into the teenage and college years, there is a significant change; the thoughts and emotions that come with depression become more and more present. The video ends with a message to seek counseling when in distress.
In the study, a control group watched a non-nostalgic video, while a second group watched the video Hussain created. He then measured change in their emotions, attitude and level of intention to seek help. He found the individuals who watched the nostalgic video had significantly higher feelings of nostalgia and the video evoked a lot of positive emotions. This positivity led to a more positive attitude toward the counseling center, which in turn led to increased behavioral intention to seek professional help.
During the study, participants were also asked to write down their thoughts about the video after the viewing. Results showed that individuals who watched the nostalgic video wrote longer, more detailed and engaging responses than those in the control group. He also found the individuals who watched the nostalgic video who had no depression were also more understanding toward those who do have depression.
“People without depression may not realize how it feels to be depressed. Many people give advice like, ‘Why don’t you go for a walk,’ or ‘Just snap out of it,’” Hussain said. “But in our study, we found individuals without depression expressed a more positive and empathetic attitude towards people who do have depression, which is an important step towards reducing stigma.”