Happy Holidays

And thanks to all those who have read, contributed, or posted comments to our site in the past year. We’ll be back on January 3.

Q&A

Is It Best to Give a Gift That’s Expensive, Thoughtful, or Useful?

Click here to listen to Dan Ariely’s response.

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, and the author of The Upside of Irrationality.


December 22, 2011

10 Ideas You’ll Want to Understand for 2012
Neutrinos, Higgs, environment, artificial IQ, Olympics, human origins, U.S. election, Facebook, the brain, networks: what’s on the agenda for next year. (New Scientist)

Will We Find the First True “Alien Earth” Next Year?
The prized quarry of many exoplanet hunters—an “alien Earth”—could be just over the horizon. In fact, such a planet may well pop up in the next round of Kepler candidates, which should be released next year, researchers said. (Mike Wall, Space.com)

Daydream Believers
Scott Barry Kaufman and Jerry Singer: We trace the development of research on daydreaming, and place it within the context of modern research on mind-wandering. We hope this article makes important distinctions which may further future research and theory on these important topics. We want to emphasize the adaptive value of attending to your own internal stream of consciousness—regardless of the label psychologists decide to put on the experience. (Guest Blog, Scientific American)

Pete Seeger on Faith in Science
Pete Seeger recalled how his father used to prod friends who were scientists this way: “You think that an infinite increase in empirical information is a good thing. Can you prove it?” He’d then retort that faith in science is no different than faith in anything else. (Andrew Revkin, Dot Earth, The New York Times)

BOOKS
Alone in the Universe

Chapter by chapter, John Gribbin describes how we are anything but an ordinary intelligence, living on an ordinary planet around an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy. Instead, our existence relies on a series of remarkable cosmic coincidences. (Valerie Jamieson, CultureLab, New Scientist)

Q&A

Are Some People More Prone to Nostalgia Than Others?

Theorists had long assumed that some people are more prone to nostalgia than others. In the mid-1990s, efforts began to develop ways of documenting that variability by assessing nostalgia proneness. For example, I introduced the Nostalgia Inventory as one method of measuring proneness with a survey of how much a person misses various aspects of his or her past. This survey assesses degrees of nostalgia for an individual’s own personal past. Research indicates that people do differ in such nostalgia proneness and that the difference is associated with certain characteristics and psychological benefits.

For example, on the average, more nostalgia-prone people are no more happy or sad than less nostalgia-prone people, but they tend to feel emotions more intensely. They tend to value relationships as more important in their lives in a number of ways. In exploring their sense of self, they pay closer attention to how others have helped shape their identity. When reminiscing about their past, they are more inclined to recall experiences in which others are central to the event. A more nostalgia-prone person might be more likely to recall going fishing with Dad, whereas a less nostalgia-prone person might be more likely to remember going fishing alone.

Research suggests that this heightened importance of others extends to greater social connectedness or the sense of belonging. Such connectedness can constitute a valuable resource in difficult times. More nostalgia-prone individuals are more likely to benefit from social support in stressful situations or in times of loneliness. By helping a person feel connected to people, past as well as present, nostalgia can remind people that they do not have to struggle alone. Strength can be gained from knowing that others care and even from remembering that others in our past have cared.

Krys Batcho is a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College.

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