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Can nostalgia be measured?

I will freely admit, I’m not a numbers guy.  This is not a source of pride by any stretch of the imagination – as a researcher, I am often limited to the questions I can ask (and, frankly, by the types of grants I might procure) because I’m not proficient in quantitative research.  I’m a qualitative guy; questions in the meaning or “why” category are more in my wheelhouse.

Not to get into a well-worn discussion about the relative value of quantitative vs. qualitative research, but there are some questions and topics that each seem more adept to one kind of methodology.  For example, a slippery concept like nostalgia seems to be more one for we qualitative guys.  After all, nostalgia is contextual, fleeting, and is often more a state of mind (although, I believe there can be a “collective nostalgia,” but I digress).  In other words, it is tough to segment, identify, and measure (degrees of nostalgia?)  In any event, I would suggest that nostalgia is something one would uncover  as part of a research project about memories – as, I see nostalgia is a very particular way of remembering that is very strongly tied to a dissatisfaction with the present (thus, the link to homesickness, or a “sweet sadness” as it were – the nostalgic memory is wonderful but forever gone).  

I have a student who has a research project dedicated to measuring nostalgia by attendees at a sporting event.  The thesis, in part, is that nostalgia drives fans to re-visit the event.  While we might contest this (though, I think nostalgia can be a strong motivator for travel, in particular), I’m just not certain he will be able to measure nostalgia as, in some ways, he may be presupposing that attendees of this event are or will be nostalgic.  Perhaps he might be able to identify what triggers nostalgia at sporting events (players, traditions, friends and family, etc.), but I’m not certain it is possible to necessarily measure nostalgia without misrepresenting nostalgia, if that makes sense (i.e.: not all memories about the past are nostalgic, for example, nor would I say that nostalgia is a positive emotion).  In any event, what say you – can nostalgia, particularly in a sporting context, be measured?


  1. Nostalgia is still a definable human concept that could be measured by various emotional categories, but not without debate on the definition, or concerns of misinterpretation of why/how nostalgia is meaningful. Nostalgia as a variable, measured as a score from a scale (higher or lower) may have a discernible relationship with attendance at a game, making visible a human behavior by statistical observation (motivator/mediator, or moderator, maybe something else drives our behavior), and results from such research questions could expand our qualitative inquiries, direct funding or stakeholder relationships to maintain and value sport heritage. In other words, a quantitative study, though not the truth, can be important too. The difficulty would be in making the nostalgia measure(s) valid and reliable, and reproducible, in objectivist terms and standards: what the numbers mean, maybe they show there is no relationship, however, remain an interpretative and critical skill of the person doing the research.

    • See, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. In some ways, I think there is something to be said for a scale of higher/lower nostalgia, though as I’m not a stats guy I struggle to see how to objectively measure this as nostalgia is such a contextual emotion. In some ways, this student is struggling to measure it because he is more concerned with positive memories of past events (which is only part of nostalgia) than nostalgia’s corresponding presentism. As such, he may not even be measuring nostalgia – though, his work may inform nostalgia research.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. davincescode says:

    Can the student, in the end, come up with a way to measure Nostalgia?

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