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Bittersweet Symphony: Nostalgia and Melancholia in Music Reception

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Abstract and Figures

Listening to music can cause experiences of nostalgia and melancholia. Although both concepts are theoretically related, to date they have not been analyzed together. In this study, we identify their theoretical underpinnings and determine how they can be measured empirically. We analyze how listening to music causes nostalgia and melancholia, and whether both experiences are related to different behavioral intentions. To this end, we conducted an online experiment with 359 participants who listened to music they considered either nostalgic, melancholic, or neutral. Afterward, participants answered 122 items related to nostalgia and melancholia. Using Structural Equation Modeling, and more specifically Multiple Indicators and Multiple Causes Modeling, we first developed two new scales, the Formative Nostalgia Scale and the Formative Melancholia Scale. Both scales consist of five items each. Results showed that listening to music indeed increased nostalgia and melancholia. Although considerably different, both concepts are related nonetheless: Listening to nostalgic music increases melancholia, whereas listening to melancholic music does not increase nostalgia. In addition, both experiences are related to different behavioral intentions: Whereas experiencing nostalgia was associated with a stronger intention to share the music and listen to it again, experiencing melancholia revealed the exact opposite relation.
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Bittersweet Symphony: Nostalgia and Melancholia in Music Reception1
Roland Toth1& Tobias Dienlin2
1FU Berlin3
2University of Hohenheim4
Author Note5
RT designed the study; RT collected the data; RT conducted the focus group; TD &6
RT analyzed the data; TD & RT wrote the manuscript.7
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Roland Toth, FU8
Berlin, School of Communication, Garystr. 55, 14195 Berlin. E-mail:9
Listening to music can cause experiences of nostalgia and melancholia. Although both12
concepts are theoretically related, to date they have not been analyzed together. In this13
study, we identify their theoretical underpinnings and determine how they can be measured14
empirically. We analyze how listening to music causes nostalgia and melancholia, and15
whether both experiences are related to different behavioral intentions. To this end, we16
conducted an online experiment with 359 participants who listened to music they17
considered either nostalgic, melancholic, or neutral. Afterward, participants answered 12218
items related to nostalgia and melancholia. Using Structural Equation Modeling, and more19
specifically Multiple Indicators and Multiple Causes Modeling, we first developed two new20
scales, the Formative Nostalgia Scale and the Formative Melancholia Scale. Both scales21
consist of five items each. Results showed that listening to music indeed increased nostalgia22
and melancholia. Although considerably different, both concepts are related nonetheless:23
Listening to nostalgic music increases melancholia, whereas listening to melancholic music24
does not increase nostalgia. In addition, both experiences are related to different25
behavioral intentions: Whereas experiencing nostalgia was associated with a stronger26
intention to share the music and listen to it again, experiencing melancholia revealed the27
exact opposite relation.28
Keywords: nostalgia, melancholia, music, media effects, online experiment, scale29
Bittersweet Symphony: Nostalgia and Melancholia in Music Reception31
Music has the powerful capacity to impact our thoughts and to affect our emotions32
(Batcho, DaRin, Nave, & Yaworsky, 2008; Irrgang & Egermann, 2016; Lamont, 2012).33
Music helps us manage our emotional experiences (Zillmann, 1988) and maintain our34
subjective well-being (Hays, 2005). One of the various emotional mechanisms triggered by35
music is nostalgia (Chung, 2016). Nostalgia is an intricate yet powerful experience: It can36
heighten our spirits, foster self-esteem, nurture social support, reduce attachment anxiety,37
and even decrease death-related thoughts (Holak & Havlena, 1998; Sedikides, Wildschut,38
Arndt, & Routledge, 2008; Wildschut, Sedikides, Arndt, & Routledge, 2006). On the other39
hand, nostalgia is not only positive; conversely, it also includes several negative affects such40
as sadness, remorse, or regret (Barrett et al., 2010; Batcho, 2013; Chung, 2016).41
Closely related, listening to music can make us pensive, contemplative, ruminating,42
and “mind-wandering” (Brady & Haapala, 2003). We might have thoughts about the past,43
the present, or the future; we might think of people that were once close but aren’t44
anymore, or ponder what the future will bring. In contrast to nostalgia, however, this45
feeling is more negative, wistful, and depressing (Brady & Haapala, 2003). This experience46
is known as melancholia.47
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of both nostalgia and melancholia is their48
emotional ambivalence. “The quality of the [melancholic] feeling resembles and overlaps49
with sadness, but is more refined, involving some degree of pleasure, although not as much50
as sweet pleasure” (Brady & Haapala, 2003). Indeed, the distinction between nostalgia and51
melancholia does not seem too pronounced at times. However, although both concepts52
stem from a clinical tradition that is related to depression (Batcho, 2013; Brady &53
Haapala, 2003), to date, and to the best of our knowledge, there is no research that54
analyzes the relationship between both explicitly.55
In this study we pursue three goals: First, we want to find out what exactly56
determines nostalgia and melancholia. To this end, we collect and test several existing57
measures and identify items that best predict both experiences. These items result in two58
novel scales of nostalgia and melancholia. Second, we analyze how listening to different59
types of music can create both experiences. Third, we investigate whether experiencing60
nostalgia and melancholia impacts people’s behavior. Are experiences of nostalgia and61
melancholia equally likely to affect intentions of subsequent music reception?62
Conceptualizing Nostalgia and Melancholia63
The term nostalgia derives from two Greek notions, “one of which is Nostos, return to64
the native land; the other, Algos, signifies suffering or grief” (Batcho, 2013, p. 166). The65
original understanding of the concept was often compared to homesickness (Batcho, 2013,66
p. 166; Wildschut et al., 2006, p. 988). Both terms however started to drift apart in the67
20th century, as distances became less of an obstacle, and the term nostalgia was no longer68
used exclusively in reference to a place but rather in reference to time (Batcho, 2013).69
Since then, nostalgia is defined as “[a] preference (general liking, positive attitude, or70
favorable affect) toward objects (people, places, or things) that were more common71
(popular, fashionable, or widely circulated) when one was younger (in early adulthood, in72
adolescence, in childhood, or even before birth)” (Holbrook & Schindler, 1991, p. 330).73
Melancholia (or melancholy) is defined as “a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with74
no obvious cause” (Dictionary, 2020), “an experience which combines the pleasure of feeling75
sad with sober self-reflection” (Smith, 2014, p. 447), and a “sublimated mellow sorrow,76
which through reflection has brighter aspects woven into it“ (Brady & Haapala, 2003, p.77
6). For a long time melancholia was considered a clinical issue (Brady & Haapala, 2003, p.78
2). Freud for example understood melancholia as a mental illness, and that it is closely79
related to depression and narcissism (Brady & Haapala, 2003, p. 2; Smith, 2014, p. 447).80
The ancient Greeks, nineteenth century English romantics, and earlier English religious81
poetry, however, praised melancholia for contributing to a more balanced life (Smith, 2014,82
p. 448). Notably, melancholia lacks a concise theoretical definition that separates it from83
related notions such as sadness and depression (Brady & Haapala, 2003, p. 2). Brady and84
Haapala (2003) hence suggests to “progress beyond these rather narrow meanings of the85
concept”, because “melancholy is a more refined emotion with qualities of its own” (p. 2).86
In short, melancholia is more than depression and negativity.87
Despite several differences, nostalgia and melancholy have much in common. First,88
they both involve cognitions, mostly in the form of reflections about the past and/or the89
present. Second, they both entail affects, including positive and negative factions. Third,90
they are meta-appraisals, which is to say that first a specific set of cognitions and affects is91
experienced, which is then in a second process labeled as a nostalgic or a melancholic92
Affects. Both nostalgia and melancholia necessitate that we experience specific94
affects. These affects are often ambivalent. When feeling nostalgic, we experience positive95
affects such as happiness, pride, joy, warmth, surgency, desire, gratitude, affection,96
tenderness, elation, pleasure, satisfaction, and euphoria; at the same time, we also97
experience negative affects such as sadness, disappointment, loss, irritation, fear, mourning,98
stress, poignancy, and regret (Barrett et al., 2010; Batcho, 2013; Chung, 2016; Holak &99
Havlena, 1992; Wildschut et al., 2006).100
When feeling melancholic, we experience negative affects such as sadness, sorrow,101
despair, dread, and grief; at the same time, we also experience more positive ones such as102
longing, pleasure, sublime, hope, excitement, and joy (Brady & Haapala, 2003; Peltola &103
Eerola, 2016; Zentner, Grandjean, & Scherer, 2008). Although melancholia does involve104
“some degree of pleasure“ (Brady & Haapala, 2003, p. 2), it is more closely related to105
sadness and therefore predominantly negative.106
Cognitions. The affects associated with nostalgia and melancholia do not exist in a107
vacuum but are necessarily related to specific cognitions. Nostalgia involves recalling108
autobiographic/episodic memories, which are often triggered by specific stimuli (Barrett et109
al., 2010; Chung, 2016, p. 33; Lahdelma & Eerola, 2015, p. 246; Sedikides, Wildschut, &110
Baden, 2004, p. 205). Memories and stimuli frequently associated with nostalgia include111
the self, interactions with (close) others, social gatherings, one’s home, and specific objects112
(Holak & Havlena, 1992, 1998; Wildschut et al., 2006). Because these elements always113
belong to the past, all cognitions involve some sort of loss (Batcho, 2013; Holak & Havlena,114
1998; Wildschut et al., 2006).115
Melancholia is likewise often (although not always) triggered by and associated with116
specific memories and people. The predominant cognition is again the subject of loss117
(Brady & Haapala, 2003; Eerola & Peltola, 2016; Smith, 2014). For example, we feel118
melancholic when thinking of close others who have passed away or who cannot be present119
at the current moment (Eerola & Peltola, 2016; Peltola & Eerola, 2016; Smith, 2014).120
Mental states and meta-appraisals. To date, there exist several different121
understandings of what nostalgia and melancholia actually are. For example, nostalgia was122
termed a basic/prototypical emotion (Chung, 2016), a complex emotion (Sedikides et al.,123
2004; Wildschut et al., 2006), an emotional blend (Barrett et al., 2010), and a124
nonbasic/secondary emotion (Sedikides et al., 2004). In this paper, we offer a different and125
novel understanding. As outlined above, nostalgia and melancholia involve the experience126
of several affects, which are also ambivalent. As a result, nostalgia and melancholia cannot127
be considered emotional prototypes or basic emotions such as fear, anger, or happiness,128
which are by definition uni-dimensional. In addition, because both concepts necessitate129
specific additional cognitions (we cannot feel nostalgic without thinking about the past),130
they are more complex than normal emotions and involve higher cognitive processes.131
Instead, we argue that nostalgia and melancholia represent specific mental states. We132
feel nostalgic or melancholic only when we experience a particular and delicate mix of133
specific affects and cognitions. For example, the more a person thinks about something134
from her past, the more she feels sad but also thankful, the more likely she is to experience135
a state of nostalgia. As a result, nostalgia and melancholia are substantially more complex136
than basic emotions such as anger. Instead, they can be compared to other more intricate137
experiences such as jealousy, schadenfreude, homesickness, wanderlust, or hygge.138
(Arguably, the easiest and most well-known mental state is love.)139
We all know from personal experience that these specific mental states exist. They140
can be shared intersubjectively and crossculturally. However, although it is easy to141
experience these states, it is often much more difficult to label them. That is because being142
able to label a specific mental state as nostalgic or melancholic requires an elaborate143
socio-cultural learning process. And interestingly, although everyone can experience these144
states, we sometimes cannot verbalize them (which is why their labels are often imported145
from foreign languages).146
Put more technically, being able to label a specific mental state as nostalgic or147
melancholic requires a so-called meta-appraisal process (also known as second-order148
appraisal; see, e.g., Bartsch, Vorderer, Mangold, & Viehoff, 2008). In a first appraisal149
process, we evaluate how we feel and what we currently think. In a second appraisal150
process, we then evaluate our general mental state of cognitions and affects, searching for151
an adequate label. (So that would be the moment when we realize we’re in love.)152
The aforementioned theoretical rationales have several practical implications. Most153
importantly, from a theoretical perspective, nostalgia and melancholia should not be154
understood as reflective constructs, the default approach in most social sciences, but as155
formative constructs (Kline, 2016). To explain, nostalgia and melancholia do not reflect in156
affects and cognitions; instead, affects and cognitions form our mental states of nostalgia157
and melancholia. In other words, whereas in reflective constructs “the causality flows from158
the latent variable to the indicators” (Söllner et al., 2010, p. 68), in formative constructs159
the causality “flows from the indicators to the latent construct” (Söllner et al., 2010, p. 68).160
As a result, there are two ways to measure nostalgia and melancholia. First, if we161
want to understand what nostalgia and melancholia actually is, we need to adopt a162
formative approach and test what affects and what cognitions determine both concepts.163
Second, to determine if a sensation is labeled as nostalgic or melancholic, we can adopt a164
reflective approach and directly ask whether a person currently feels that way.165
To the best of our knowledge, to date this understanding of nostalgia and166
melancholia has not been employed in research. Most scales focused only on specific167
aspects of nostalgia and melancholia, while using a reflective logic. In this study, we hence168
adopt a novel theoretical and empirical approach in order to find out what affects and what169
cognitions determine nostalgia and melancholia.170
Research Question 1: What are the exact components of nostalgia and melancholia?171
Causes of Nostalgia and Melancholia172
What causes nostalgia? Common triggers include negative mood and emotions,173
sensory inputs, and media content (Barrett et al., 2010; Botstein, 2000; Chung, 2016;174
Holak & Havlena, 1992; Wildschut et al., 2006; Wulf, Bonus, & Rieger, 2019). Because175
media play an important role in a person’s development (Loveland, Smeesters, & Mandel,176
2010), and because music is able to evoke autobiographic memories (Middeke & Wald,177
2011), it is likely that listening to music can increase nostalgia. If these memories are178
associated with loss, music is likely to evoke also melancholia. In that vein, Brady and179
Haapala (2003) note that “when discussing the arts, the closest we come to finding180
melancholy as a mood is in music” (p. 8). Also empirically, several studies have shown that181
nostalgia and melancholia can be triggered by music, particularly sad one (Eerola &182
Peltola, 2016; Juslin, Barradas, Ovsiannikow, Limmo, & Thompson, 2016; Juslin &183
Laukka, 2004). Eerola et al. (2016) even noted that melancholia is among the top-ranking184
emotions involved in experiences with sad music (p. 10). As a result, it is safe to say that185
both nostalgia and melancholia can be induced by music.186
However, two interesting questions are left unanswered. First, when listening to187
music, what components of nostalgia and melancholia are affected the most? Does music188
rather change affects of cognitions? Second, do the effects depend on the type of music one189
is listening to? Specifically, does listening to nostalgic music also cause melancholia, and190
does listening to melancholic music also increase nostalgia?191
Research Question 2: How does listening to different types of music affect nostalgia192
and melancholia?193
Outcomes of Nostalgia and Melancholia194
What are behavioral outcomes of experiencing nostalgia and melancholia? So far, it195
has been shown that both experiences are indeed powerful and that they can affect196
subsequent behavior. Specifically, by letting individuals re-live predominantly social197
memories, nostalgia can stir one’s need to belong (Loveland et al., 2010) and nurture the198
desire to partake in social activities (Sedikides et al., 2004). In addition, media-induced199
nostalgia increases people’s willingness to share that media content with loved ones, to200
consume it again, and to act altruistically (Chung, 2016). In short, nostalgia seems to have201
a markedly activating and stimulating effect. Regarding media content, we hence assume202
that nostalgia makes people more likely to share and to relive the media content that203
triggered nostalgia.204
We are not aware of any research that has explicitly and empirically analyzed the205
behavioral effects of experiencing melancholia. Because melancholia is conceptually related206
to nostalgia, it seems possible that experiencing melancholia leads to the same stimulating207
behavioral effects. On the other hand, because melancholia is more negative and depressing208
(Brady & Haapala, 2003), it might also be more inhibiting and petrifying. People who209
experience melancholia after listening to a song might also be less likely to share that song210
with others or to listen to it again.211
Research Question 3: How do nostalgia and melancholia relate to behavioral212
We report how we determined our sample size, all data exclusions, all manipulations,215
and all measures in the study. Additional information, the data, the analysis scripts, and a216
completely reproducible version of this manuscript can be found in the online217
supplementary material (OSM) at218
Given the lack of instruments to measure melancholia, we first conducted a focus221
group interview to generate novel items. We conducted a semi-structured interview with222
four students from the local university, which was recorded on audio, with all participants223
consenting to the procedure. On the basis of the focus group, we developed several novel224
items, which capture both affects and cognitions (see section Novel Melancholia Items).225
For the main study, we used a convenience sampling approach. We recruited226
participants from different sources, such as the local university, online communities, small227
panel-agencies, and local networks. As incentive, participants had the chance to win two228
15Amazon coupons. Data collection took place in December 2017.229
To answer our research questions we ran an online experiment. We followed the230
approaches by Holbrook and Schindler (1991), Michels-Ratliff and Ennis (2016), and231
Wildschut et al. (2006). We first instructed participants to listen to a specific song of their232
own liking on their preferred platform (e.g., Spotify or YouTube). Participants were233
randomly assigned to three experimental groups. In the group Nostalgia, participants were234
instructed to listen to a song they considered nostalgic; in the group Melancholia,235
participants were instructed to listen to a song they considered melancholic; in the Control236
Group, participants were instructed to listen to a song of their own choice. Because237
nostalgia or melancholia are complex constructs, participants were shown a brief lexical238
definition of the two concepts. They were recommended to use headphones and to remain239
undisturbed during the study. As a manipulation check, before proceeding to the first page240
of the questionnaire, we asked participants whether they had actually listened to a song241
that matched the instructions. Only those who answered yes were directed further.242
As a sanity check, we looked at the artists participants typically listened to. In the243
nostalgia group, participants listened to Queen, Blind Guardian, Freundeskreis, Linkin244
Park, and Rise Against. In the melancholia group, participants listened to Adele, Coldplay,245
Enya, Herbert Grönemeyer and Johnny Cash. In the control group, Ed Sheeran and246
Imagine Dragons were the most popular artists. Fifteen percent of all participants listened247
to the music in combination with a video. Participation took between 10 and 15 minutes.248
Participants. The data of 15 participants were deleted because they answered the249
questions in less than one minute after opening the survey, which indicates that they had250
not really listened to music. Missing values were treated with case-wise deletion. Overall,251
N= 344 participants took part in the study (nNos = 117, nMel = 111, nCon = 116). The252
mean age was M= 30 years (SD = 11 years). Sixty percent of the participants were253
female. The participants were highly educated: One percent reported having no degree, 12254
% middle/junior high school, 38 % high school, and 49 % college. The experimental groups255
did not differ concerning their sociodemographic characteristics (see OSM).256
In what follows, we list all variables that were collected to measure nostalgia and258
melancholia. All items were measured on a scale with seven response options, ranging from259
1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely). For a list of all items, additional confirmatory factor260
analyses, psychometric statistics, and item distributions, see OSM.261
Self-reported nostalgia. Two items measured experiences of nostalgia in a direct262
and explicit way. The first item was “I feel nostalgic at the moment” (Wildschut et al.,263
2006, p. 983) and the second item was “The piece of music evoked nostalgic feelings”264
(Chung, 2016, p. 29). The two items were used as a reflective measure of nostalgia.265
Nostalgia Inventory. We collected the Nostalgia Inventory (Batcho, 1995), which266
assesses the degree to which individuals currently miss specific aspects from their past. The267
scale consists of 20 items, including “Places” and “The way people were”.268
Nostalgia Scale. We used the Nostalgia Scale developed by Holbrook and269
Schindler (1994). The scale includes items such as “Things used to be better in the good270
old days” or “We are experiencing a decline in the quality of life”.271
Recalling Related Others. We adopted four items from the nostalgia dimension272
Recalling Related Others developed by Chung (2016). The scale consists of items such as273
“It makes me think about someone in the past” and “It makes me recall someone who was274
related to it”.275
Nostalgic memories. Next, we used the seven-item scale developed by Chung276
(2016), which measures how consuming media content affects nostalgia. The scale focuses277
on cognitions. For example, two of those items are “It made me think about when I was278
younger” and “It evoked fond memories”.279
Self-reported melancholia. Similarly to self-reported nostalgia, we used the two280
items “I feel melancholic at the moment” and “The piece of music evoked nostalgic281
feelings”, which was used as a reflective measure of self-reported melancholia.282
Novel melancholia items. On the basis of the focus group interview and literature283
review, eleven novel items were designed to capture melancholia. The scale addresses both284
emotional and cognitive aspects in the context of music reception. Items include, for285
example, “I was absorbed in thought” and “I wanted to have some peace and quiet”.286
Topics of thought. As another measure of cognitions, we employed eight items287
that captured the topics participants thought about. For example, we assessed the degree288
to which participants had thought about “Places” or “Objects”. The scale was adopted289
from existing work, literature review, and the focus group interview.290
Positive and negative affect. Given that most prior measures focused mainly on291
cognitive components of nostalgia and melancholia, the Positive and Negative Affect292
Schedule (PANAS) (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) was collected to measure emotions293
more generally. The PANAS consists of two dimensions with 10 items each. The first294
dimension, positive affect, includes items such as “Excited” and “Attentive”. The second295
dimension, negative affect, includes items such as “Afraid” and “Jittery”.296
Behavioral intentions. Aligned with Chung (2016), we collected eight items that297
measured the behavioral intentions (a) to share the piece of music with others and (b) to298
listen to it again. Two of those items are “It makes me realize I would enjoy sharing this299
with family” and “It makes me want to know about it more”.300
Data Analysis301
With Research Question 1, we set out to determine which items would best predict302
nostalgia and melancholia. We hence collected a large number of items (overall, 122 items;303
see above). All items were selected on the basis of the aforementioned theoretical304
considerations. From this collection, we selected items on the basis their empirical criterion305
validity. In other words, we aimed to select the items that best predicted the self-reported306
measures of nostalgia and melancholia. To this end, we ran two multiple regressions models307
in which all items were included as predictor variables; one with self-reported nostalgia as308
the criterion and one with self-reported melancholia. To circumvent multicollinearity, we309
removed 14 items because they exhibited strong inter-correlations (i.e. above r= .70),310
while adding little incremental predictive validity. We selected all items with a p-value311
below p= .10.1
In a next step, we ran several iterative Structural Equation Models (SEM) to313
determine the exact loading of the respective items on the latent factors of nostalgia and314
melancholia. To adopt a formative approach, we specified so-called Multiple Indicators and315
Multiple Causes Models (MIMIC; Ríos-Bedoya, Pomerleau, Neuman, & Pomerleau, 2009).316
On the basis of the loadings of the final model, we then computed two new weighted scales:317
the Formative Nostalgia Scale and the Formative Melancholia Scale. These two weighted318
scales were then used for all subsequent analyses.319
Please note that understanding nostalgia and melancholia as formative constructs has320
other implications as well. For example, the items of a formative construct are not required321
to correlate or to form a unidimensional factor structure (Kline, 2016). As a result, it is322
not necessary to run further factor analyses.323
Research Question 2 was tested using SEM. The experimental groups were compared324
individually using contrasts. The Formative Nostalgia Scale and the Formative Melancholia325
1We intentionally set a more liberal significance level than usual in order not to discard potentially
meaningful information too easily.
Scale were used as dependent variables. In order to better understand which aspects of326
nostalgia and melancholia were influenced specifically, we also analyzed how listening to327
music affected the individual indicators/components of both concepts. To better visualize328
the results, we display the means for all groups alongside their 95% confidence intervals,329
which were computed using bootstraps with 1000 draws (see Figure 2).330
Research Question 3 was tested also using SEM. We analyzed how strongly the331
Formative Nostalgia Scale and the Formative Melancholia Scale predicted behavioral332
All SEMs were estimated using Maximum Likelihood estimation. Effects larger than334
β= .10 were considered small, β= .30 medium-sized, and β= .50 large (Cohen, 1992).335
We set an alpha level of 5 percent. In terms of power, we aimed for collecting the largest336
sample possible. Specifically, it was our aim to be able to find small to medium-sized337
effects (i.e., β= .20) with a probability of at least 80%, which led to a minimum sample338
size of N= 193. Sensitivity analyses revealed we were able to identify effects of β= .19339
with a probability of 95%.340
For the analyses, coding, and typesetting, we used R (Version 3.6.1; R Core Team,341
2018) and the R-packages ggplot2 (Version 3.2.1; Wickham, 2016), lavaan (Version 0.6.5;342
Rosseel, 2012), lm.beta (Version 1.5.1; Behrendt, 2014), magrittr (Version 1.5; Bache &343
Wickham, 2014), papaja (Version; Aust & Barth, 2018), psych (Version344; Revelle, 2018), semTools (Version 0.5.2; Jorgensen et al., 2018), and tidyverse345
(Version 1.3.0; Wickham, 2017).346
Measuring Nostalgia and Melancholia348
With Research Question 1, we identified the items that best measured nostalgia and349
melancholia. The MIMIC model that we configured fit the data well χ2(31) = 73.24, p<350
.001, cfi = .97, rmsea = .06, 90% CI [.04, .08], srmr = .02. Following the procedure351
described above, we found that experiences of nostalgia and melancholia were best352
Table 1
Items measuring nostalgia and melancholia. When using the
items in future studies, compute scales using weighted means.
Item Weight
Formative nostalgia scale
It reminded me of the past 0.40
It evoked fond memories 0.19
I thought about someone in the past 0.16
I felt enthusiastic 0.15
I felt lonely 0.11
Formative melancholia scale
I was pensive 0.32
I was wistful 0.35
I felt distressed 0.15
I wanted some peace and quiet 0.10
I was especially susceptive to the transience of time 0.08
predicted by five items each. For a list of all items including their respective weights, see353
Table 1. For a visualization of the MIMIC model, see Figure 1.354
The results showed that both affects and cognitions were crucial. As expected, most355
items that most strongly predicted nostalgia were positively valenced, as evidenced by356
participants experiencing fond memories and enthusiasm. However, experiencing nostalgia357
was also related to feeling slightly more lonely. Melancholia, on the other hand, was358
decidedly more negative, as evidenced by feelings of distress and wistfulness. It was359
characterized by an particularly strong self-orientation and inwardness, as participants felt360
pensive and wanted some peace and quiet.361
Overall, the five items measuring nostalgia explained 56 % of the variance in the362
latent formative factor of nostalgia. The five items measuring melancholia explained 76 %363
of the variance in the latent formative factor of melancholia.364
Thoughts about
past general
Thoughts about
past person
Want of
Figure 1 . Research Question 1: Visualisation of MIMIC model, which was used to determine
the loadings of the items on the latent measures of nostalgia and melancholia. The latent fac-
tors were identified by measuring participants current experiences of nostalgia/melancholia,
as well as their perceptions of how the music made them feel nostalgic/melancholic. Stan-
dardized coefficients are reported.
Effects on Nostalgia and Melancholia365
With Research Question 2, we investigated whether listening to nostalgic,366
melancholic, or generic music affected the experiences of nostalgia and melancholia.367
As expected, compared to the control group, listening to nostalgic music made368
Table 2
Effects of different types of music on nostalgia and melancholia.
Nos vs. Con Mel vs. Con Nos vs. Mel
beta p beta p beta p
Formative nostalgia scale .44 < .001 .09 .156 .36 < .001
Thoughts about past person .35 < .001 .30 < .001 .05 .416
Loneliness .20 .002 .33 < .001 -.16 .013
Enthusiasm -.05 .445 -.49 < .001 .42 < .001
Fond memories .14 .031 -.22 < .001 .36 < .001
Thoughts about past general .46 < .001 .18 .006 .30 < .001
Formative melancholia scale .32 < .001 .54 < .001 -.29 < .001
Pensiveness .28 < .001 .45 < .001 -.23 < .001
Wistfulness .26 < .001 .44 < .001 -.22 < .001
Transience .35 < .001 .38 < .001 -.05 .470
Want of peace .05 .473 .30 < .001 -.25 < .001
Distress .24 < .001 .54 < .001 -.32 < .001
Note. Nos = experimental group listening to nostalgic music; Mel = group
listening to melancholic music; Con = Control group listening to random
Formative melancholia
I was pensive
I was wistful
I felt distressed
I wanted some
peace and quiet
I was especially
susceptive to the
transience of time
Formative nostalgia
It reminded me
of the past
It evoked fond
I thought about
someone in the past
I felt enthusiastic
I felt lonely
Music Nostalgia Melancholia Control
Figure 2 . The effects of listening to different types of music on nostalgia and melancholia.
participants much more nostalgic, β= .44, b= 1.05, 95% CI [0.77, 1.32], z= 7.47, p<369
.001. As a result, the experimental manipulation was successful. Specifically, when370
compared to the control group, almost all individual items measuring nostalgia showed371
significantly higher levels. For example, participants were more likely to think about the372
past in general, to think about a specific person from the past, to feel lonely, and to have373
fond memories of the past. Only the level of enthusiasm was equally high in both groups.374
Interestingly, listening to nostalgic music also increased levels of melancholia, β= .32, b=375
0.91, 95% CI [0.56, 1.25], z= 5.17, p< .001. Compared to the control condition, listening376
to nostalgic music made participants somewhat more distressed, pensive, wistful, and377
aware of the transience of time.378
Next, listening to melancholic music made participants significantly more melancholic379
compared to the control group, β= .54, b= 1.67, 95% CI [1.34, 2.01], z= 9.79, p< .001.380
As a result, also this experimental manipulation was successful. Specifically, when381
compared to the control group, all items measuring melancholia showed significantly higher382
levels. Participants were much more distressed, pensive, wistful, aware of the transience of383
time, and wanted more peace and quiet. Listening to melancholic music did not increase384
levels of nostalgia, β= .09, b= 0.23, 95% CI [-0.09, 0.56], z= 1.42, p= .156.385
When comparing the nostalgia and melancholia groups with each another, both386
parallels and differences can be found. Participants in both groups were equally likely to387
think of a person from the past. Likewise, both groups felt equally susceptibility to the388
transience of time. But there were also differences. Participants listening to nostalgic music389
were much more enthusiastic, were more likely to think about the past in general, had390
more fond memories, and felt less lonely. Participants listening to melancholic music, in391
turn, were even more distressed, pensive, wistful, and wanted more peace and quiet.392
For an overview of all result see Table 2, and for a visualization see Figure 2.393
Effects of Nostalgia and Melancholia394
With Research Question 3, we analyzed whether experiencing nostalgia was related395
to changes in behavioral intentions. Participants who were more nostalgic were more intent396
on sharing the music with others, β= .26, b= 0.33, 95% CI [0.18, 0.47], z= 4.41, p<397
.001. The effect was small to medium-sized. Participants who were more nostalgic were398
also more intent on listening to the music again, β= .15, b= 0.15, 95% CI [0.02, 0.29], z=399
2.31, p= .021. The effect was small.400
Participants who experienced more melancholia than others were moderately less401
likely to share that music with others, β= -.18, b= -0.18, 95% CI [-0.30, -0.07], z= -3.03,402
Table 3
Relations between the formative scales of nostalgia and
melancholia and intentions to again listen to the music and to
share it with others.
Effect b ll ul beta p
Share the music with others 0.33 0.18 0.47 .26 < .001
Listen again 0.15 0.02 0.29 .15 .021
Share the music with others -0.18 -0.30 -0.07 -.18 .002
Listen again -0.16 -0.27 -0.05 -.18 .004
p= .002. Finally, participants who experienced more nostalgia were moderately less likely403
to listen to the music again, β= -.18, b= -0.16, 95% CI [-0.27, -0.05], z= -2.85, p= .004.404
For an overview of the results, see Table 3.405
In this study, we analyzed the conceptual nature of nostalgia and melancholia. We407
analyzed how both experiences are affected by listening to different types of music, and408
whether feeling nostalgic and melancholic is related to changes in behavioral intentions. On409
the basis of theoretical considerations and empirical research, we argued that nostalgia and410
melancholia describe mental states. During these mental states, we experience specific411
affects and cognitions. As a result, this is the first study to analyze nostalgia and412
melancholia as formative constructs.413
Using a criterion validity approach, we compared overall 122 items and selected the414
ten items that best predicted nostalgia and melancholia. Specifically, results showed that415
we label a state nostalgic when we are thinking about the past or a specific person we once416
knew, and when we are reliving fond memories. Next to these cognitions, we also417
experience two typical affects. When nostalgic, we are also feeling a bit enthusiastic as well418
as lonely. Our results confirm that nostalgia is an ambivalent experience, which consists of419
both cognitions and affects (Barrett et al., 2010; Chung, 2016). Our results are hence420
aligned with previous research, which found that positive memories and thinking of other421
people are typical aspects of nostalgia (Holak & Havlena, 1992; Wildschut et al., 2006).422
Melancholia likewise consists of several affects and cognitions. Regarding cognitions,423
we label a state melancholic if we are pensive, that is thinking about various different424
topics. Interestingly, melancholia was also predicted significantly by the (somewhat exotic)425
item that people were more aware of the “transience of time”, which expresses a certain426
grief, weltschmerz, but also mindfulness. Hence, melancholia is less about specific memories427
and more about general feelings of loss, which is well aligned with the existing literature428
(Brady & Haapala, 2003; Eerola & Peltola, 2016; Smith, 2014). Melancholia seems to be an429
overarching, abstract state of thinking, whereas nostalgia is more specific and directed430
toward an object or person. Regarding its emotional components, when melancholic we feel431
heavily distressed but also wistful. Together, this again confirms that melancholia is432
ambivalent, that it is mainly negative, but also that there must be something positive that433
is currently lacking, got missing, or is out of reach, but that is worth attaining. In addition,434
experiencing melancholia also means wanting some peace and quiet, wanting to be left435
alone. Melancholia is therefore not so much about feeling lonely but about wanting to be436
alone, about experiencing solitude (Russell, Cutrona, McRae, & Gomez, 2012). Hence,437
melancholia has an introverted, private nature (Smith, 2014). This finding emerged already438
during the focus group interview, during which participants expressed that melancholia is439
about self-caring, grounding, and being egocentric.440
Can music trigger nostalgia and melancholia, and if so, what aspects? Using an441
experimental design with three groups (nostalgic music, melancholic music, and regular442
music), we found that listening to music considered nostalgic indeed increased nostalgia. In443
general, the overall levels of nostalgia were much higher. In particular, when compared to444
regular music, listening to nostalgic music changes especially the cognitive components.445
The strongest difference was that participants reflected much more strongly about specific446
events and people from the past. Emotionally, both types of music seem to make their447
listeners comparably enthusiastic. This is not surprising, because listening to music448
generally evokes positive emotions (Zentner et al., 2008, p. 513), and when given a choice449
people normally choose uplifting music. That said, listening to nostalgic music increases450
perceptions of loneliness.451
Listening to melancholic music has strong effects on its listeners. However, in452
contrast to nostalgic music melancholic music has a stronger impact on affects as compared453
to cognitions. When listening to melancholic music levels of distress virtually skyrocketed,454
whereas levels of enthusiasm plummeted. Melancholic music made participants much more455
wistful. Interestingly, although loneliness is an indicator of nostalgia, listening to456
melancholic music leads to even higher levels of loneliness. This shows that listening to457
music considered melancholic certainly affects feelings of loneliness, but that those feelings458
do not contribute much to the assessment of melancholia. Cognitively, listening to459
melancholic music made participants much more pensive. The focus was on the past:460
Above all, respondents thought about people they once knew, but also about the past in461
general. However, people were less likely to have fond memories.462
Interestingly, whereas listening to nostalgic music also increased general levels of463
melancholia, listening to melancholic music did not increase general levels of nostalgia.464
This finding can be explained by the fact that melancholic music does not trigger euphoria,465
which is a necessary condition for nostalgia. Listening to nostalgic music, on the other466
hand, can stir some melancholia, is hence not mutually exclusive. For example, pensiveness467
and wistfulness are certainly involved in nostalgia, too, as thinking of and missing the past468
is a defining aspect of nostalgia. The only exception is that listening to nostalgic music469
does not lead to participants wanting more peace and quiet, which nicely fits nostalgia’s470
more social nature (see below).471
Does experiencing nostalgia and melancholia relate to different behavioral intentions?472
The short answer is, yes it does. Participants who experienced higher levels of nostalgia473
expressed a stronger wish to share the piece of music they had just listened to with others.474
Similarly, they were also more likely to listen to that piece of music again. Experiencing475
melancholia, on the other hand, is related to a decreased intention to share the music with476
others and to further engage with it. This non-social quality and restricted desirability477
clearly differentiates melancholia from nostalgia. Whereas nostalgia is more social and478
uplifting, melancholia is more private and mentally taxing. Nostalgic experiences we want479
to share with others and relive; melancholic experiences we want to keep away from others480
and avoid.481
Looking at all results combined, we find several similarities between nostalgia and482
melancholia. For example, both concepts are mental states that include both affects and483
cognition. Cognitively, both include a focus on the past from a perspective of loss.484
Emotionally, both are highly ambivalent, and include positive and negative factions. At the485
same time there exist several differences. Most prominently, nostalgia feels much more486
positive. When feeling nostalgic, the negativity does not lead to resignation and487
introversion. Instead, it still allows for (and even encourages) sharing and reliving the488
experience (Chung, 2016).489
Although melancholia is taxing from a hedonistic perspective, it might offer crucial490
benefits from an eudaimonic perspective. Because even though emotionally unpleasant,491
thinking about one’s losses might also foster appreciation for what is still there. It might492
lead to subsequent course corrections. Nostalgia has already been investigated in the light493
this two-factor model of entertainment (Wulf et al., 2019); the same situation likely also494
applies to melancholia.495
Limitations and future research496
Our sample size was comparatively small, which allowed for finding only small to497
medium-sized effects with a high probability. However, it seems likely that direct exposure498
to melancholic and nostalgic music indeed causes moderate to even substantial effects. As a499
result, the results reported here seem sufficiently robust.500
From a methodological perspective, we only measured the relations between501
experiencing nostalgia and melancholia and behavioral intentions. As a result, our research502
design does not allow for causal inferences regarding the behavioral effects of nostalgia and503
melancholia. However, theoretically it seems more plausible that both experiences affect504
behavioral intentions than vice versa. Nonetheless, we encourage future research to address505
this question using study designs that explicitly address causality – preferably by collecting506
behavioral data. Also, we focused on only two possible outcomes of experiencing nostalgia507
and melancholia, when there are evidently many more. For example, it would be interesting508
to see whether experiencing melancholia leads to course corrections or reassessments, which509
could for example result in the contacting of a former friend or ex partner.510
The final selection of items was bottom-up and based on the items’ criterion validity.511
Although this is a common approach – a famous example is the Minnesota Multiphasic512
Personality Inventory (MMPI; McKinley & Hathaway, 1944) – one might argue that this513
approach is too data-driven and lacks a theoretical foundation. However, all items that we514
included were derived from existing research. To make sure that all relevant aspects of515
both constructs were included, we also conducted a focus group interview and designed516
several additional items.517
In this study we induced nostalgia and melancholia via listening to music. It would518
be interesting to see whether our conceptualization remains valid when nostalgia and519
melancholia are evoked via other media (Sedikides et al., 2015). Due to the scales’ general520
nature, we however assume that they can be used also in other contexts with different521
stimuli. Likewise, the scales might also be helpful for non-media related research questions.522
Especially the Formative Melancholia Scale represents, to the best of our knowledge, the523
first and only measure that does not consider melancholia simply as a weaker version of524
depression. If used in future research, we recommend to not simply calculate the means of525
the five items. Instead, in order to implement their formative nature we recommend526
calculating weighted means using the values presented in Table 1. Employing the two527
scales in different contexts, especially with different stimuli, should further advance our528
understanding of these intricate, fleeting, and fascinating concepts.529
Nostalgia and melancholia are closely related. However, they are also markedly531
distinct. Specifically, nostalgia is a predominantly positive experience that stems from532
appreciating good times and the people associated with it. At the same time, there is the533
uncomfortable confrontation with the fact that those good times are over. As a result,534
people want to share triggers of nostalgia with others and are looking forward to reliving535
nostalgic experiences.536
Melancholia, on the other hand, has a more somber tone. It is a solitary, introverted537
experience, and involves ruminating about things that have happened in one’s life. These538
ruminations are general, without a specific focus. While feeling melancholic, people prefer539
to be left alone. They want to indulge in the experience, which although distressing540
possibly provides a cathartic function. That said, people seem afraid to share or to further541
engage in melancholia and its triggers.542
As so often, many artists have known all this long before. Because although the dog543
days are over, some things will never change. But there’s a crack in everything, and that’s544
how the light gets in.545
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Music is often discussed to be emotional because it reflects expressive movements in audible form. Thus, a valid approach to measure musical emotion could be to assess movement stimulated by music. In two experiments we evaluated the discriminative power of mobile-device generated acceleration data produced by free movement during music listening for the prediction of ratings on the Geneva Emotion Music Scales (GEMS-9). The quality of prediction for different dimensions of GEMS varied between experiments for tenderness (R12(first experiment) = 0.50, R22(second experiment) = 0.39), nostalgia (R12 = 0.42, R22 = 0.30), wonder (R12 = 0.25, R22 = 0.34), sadness (R12 = 0.24, R22 = 0.35), peacefulness (R12 = 0.20, R22 = 0.35) and joy (R12 = 0.19, R22 = 0.33) and transcendence (R12 = 0.14, R22 = 0.00). For others like power (R12 = 0.42, R22 = 0.49) and tension (R12 = 0.28, R22 = 0.27) results could be almost reproduced. Furthermore, we extracted two principle components from GEMS ratings, one representing arousal and the other one valence of the experienced feeling. Both qualities, arousal and valence, could be predicted by acceleration data, indicating, that they provide information on the quantity and quality of experience. On the one hand, these findings show how music-evoked movement patterns relate to music-evoked feelings. On the other hand, they contribute to integrate findings from the field of embodied music cognition into music recommender systems.
Two studies investigated the characteristics of nostalgic entertainment experiences. A survey (Study 1) asked American undergraduates to report their cognitive and affective reactions during a recent entertainment experience that they deemed nostalgic, meaningful, or pleasurable. Results indicated that nostalgic experiences often occurred after exposure to familiar media content (e.g., beloved children’s shows). Although these experiences were affectively similar to both pleasurable entertainment experiences (in terms of enjoyment) and meaningful entertainment experiences (in terms of mixed affect), they differed in the focus of their associated cognitions (i.e., reflection on the self in the past and over time). A follow-up experiment (Study 2) demonstrated that exposure to familiar children’s shows (rather than unfamiliar children’s shows or meaningful film trailers) induced nostalgic reactions in adults ranging in age from 19 to 47. The implications of these findings for current two-factor models of entertainment are discussed.
Typically, music-evoked nostalgia and the autobiographical memories that often accompany nostalgic experiences are generated by randomly playing popular songs from a participant’s past. This study tested a new method of evoking nostalgia and autobiographical memories that targets participants’ individual preferences. In the study, 175 participants entered 3 songs that made them feel nostalgic into the Internet music site Pandora to create a personalized “station” of 7 similar songs. Fifty-nine percent of Pandora-selected songs were rated moderately high to very high in evoking nostalgia—a clear improvement on the 26% of songs that were rated somewhat nostalgic or higher using the typical method (Barrett et al., 2010). Participants reported an autobiographical memory for 72% of the Pandora-selected songs—a marked improvement on the 29% evoked by the typical method (Janata, Tomic, & Rakowski, 2007). In short, Pandora evoked more nostalgia and autobiographical memories than had previous methods. Furthermore, the nostalgia evoked had all the hypothesized characteristics: It was significantly predicted by how autobiographically salient the song was, how familiar the song was, how meaningful the song was, how much positive affect the song evoked, how arousing the song was, how much the song was liked, and how much negative affect the song evoked. This method is relevant not only to researchers who want to evoke nostalgia and autobiographical memories more reliably but also to those who want to evoke mixed (positive and negative) affect. Furthermore, this research sheds new light on the role that meaning plays in nostalgia.
‘Why is it that all men who have become outstanding in philosophy, statesmanship, poetry or the arts are melancholic?’ This statement, which had been ascribed to Aristotle for a long time, can be regarded as the foundation of the long-standing cultural history of melancholia.1 It shows that the phenomenon was regarded as more than an illness already in ancient times. In 350 BC, melancholia is understood as an epiphenomenon of, or even as a prerequisite for, outstanding cultural and political achievements and deep philosophical insight, although Pseudo-Aristotle at the same time acknowledges the pain caused by melancholia. In its interrelated medical and cultural histories, melancholia has maintained such a complex denotation: it has frequently been understood as a painful condition which opens up an avenue to deeper insight, to judiciousness and to creativity. Such a ‘nobilitation’ constitutes the main difference between melancholia and today’s category of depression. Despite the fact that traces of melancholia’s history can be found in the current psychiatric definition of depression, the cultural status of the phenomena differ decisively.2 The ‘nobilitation’ of melancholia and its association with philosophy, science and art is emblematically captured in Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I, an image with an immense iconographic influence on later visual representations of melancholia (Fig. 1.1), including Alberto Giacometti’s cube that is reproduced on the cover of this book. Here, as elsewhere in the visual arts, the representation of the melancholic makes a psychological state of mind correspond with the outside world; the personification of melancholia is situated in allegorical or symbolic spaces.