In a study published by the Journal of Neuroscience last month, scientists have found a possible link between nostalgia and pain via the thalamus:
Nostalgia is known to reduce individuals’ perception of physical pain. The underlying brain mechanisms, however, are unclear. Our study found that the thalamus plays a key role as a functional linkage between nostalgia and pain, suggesting a possible analgesic modulatory mechanism of nostalgia. These findings have implications for the underlying brain mechanisms of psychological analgesia.
In layman’s terms, the study shows nostalgia having a pain relieving effect on the test subjects. Inverse took a deeper dive into the study:
[…] participants in a lab experiment where slight heat was applied to their skin rated their pain as less severe if they viewed nostalgia-inducing images, such as candy, cartoons, and toys from the era of their childhood. The reminders of yesteryear also seemed to change activity levels in regions of the brain that scientists think are important to pain perception.
Previous research has shown that being overtaken by warm thoughts of the past can reduce feelings of pain. In a set of 2020 studies, writing assignments meant to evoke nostalgia lowered levels of self-reported pain in both chronic pain sufferers and healthy individuals who experienced a lab-generated physical discomfort.
I’ve always opted for nostalgia as a coping mechanism and it usually works. But as an analgesic? Come to think of it, that might be why I’ve watched 90s adverts and played 16-bit games when I’ve been unwell. It beats drugs!