Nostalgia

Written by USYD Psychology student Oscar Leppan

Memory, emotion, and perception are intertwined within the emotional state of nostalgia.

 

When a memory is formed, the hippocampal complex automatically encodes all aspects of the experience. Input from all the senses – sound, touch, smell, vision and taste – are captured from different neuronal sites, merged with our internal affective state and consolidated into a memory trace. This trace is indexed amongst millions of others, all with a unique combination of sensory and affective information.

 

Over time, repeated exposure to a particular piece of sensory input (e.g. the taste of a meal) may become consciously or unconsciously associated with other sensory information or mood states. As the brain identifies commonalities between events, similar memory traces are stored close together. For this reason, one element of a sensory environment can elicit recall of several related images, tastes, feelings, sounds or simply several events. Recall of these events evokes nostalgia, an emotional state stemming recollection of different moments in one’s life that all share a distinct emotional and perceptual footprint.

 

Music is a particularly powerful tool for evoking nostalgia. Fragments of sound within a composition can be enough to bring back a cascade of memories. There are two main reasons for this. First, we are highly proficient at remembering music we have already heard and associating it with events. These events may stem from early life, with evidence suggesting that four-month-old babies can discern between melodies they had listened to in the womb and melodies that were unfamiliar. Second, music evokes imagery. If a friend had a band poster in their room, hearing a related song may remind you of the time you spent together. If you flicked past a familiar record at a record store, then hearing that song again may remind you of the events of that day. In other words, songs can prompt recollection of events wherein that song was not heard.

 

Through the experience herein the artists have attempted to elicit memory recall through the environment and sounds that were introduced. We would be interested to hear about your perceptual and emotional experience during installation. Please fill out the survey below if you would like to share this with us.