Special Session Summary Moving Forward on Looking Backward: Advancing Theory and Practice in Nostalgia

Aric Rindfleisch, University of Arizona
David E. Sprott, Washington State University
[ to cite ]:
Aric Rindfleisch and David E. Sprott (2000) ,"Special Session Summary Moving Forward on Looking Backward: Advancing Theory and Practice in Nostalgia", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 27, eds. Stephen J. Hoch and Robert J. Meyer, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 34-35.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 27, 2000      Pages 34-35



Aric Rindfleisch, University of Arizona

David E. Sprott, Washington State University


The participants in this special session presented new research on the relationship between nostalgia and consumption. Robert Schindler (Rutgers-Camden) and Morris Holbrook (Columbia) led off the session with a paper titled, "Nostalgia for Early Experiences as a Determinant of Consumer Preferences for Automobile Styles." This paper examines gender differences in the formation of nostalgic attachments to automobiles and also explores individual differences in terms of nostalgia proneness using three different psychological scales. Aric Rindfleisch (Arizona), Dan Freeman (Arizona), and Jim Burroughs (Rutgers-New Brunswick) followed with a paper titled, "Nostalgia, Materialism, and Product Preference: An Initial Inquiry." This paper examines the empirical relationship between nostalgia proneness and materialism, as well as the effect of these two constructs on preference and choice for automobiles. David Sprott (Washington State) and Steven Silverman (Washington State) closed the session with a paper titled, "Does Nostalgia Sell? Exploring the Role of Nostalgia in Important Objects and Branded Products." This paper uses a multi-method approach to explore the degree to which consumers hold nostalgic views toward both important objects and branded products, and also examines the effect of nostalgic appeals on consumer response.


While the three papers in this session addressed a variety of issues, they collectively emphasized three key issues pertinent to scholars interested in the relationship between nostalgia and consumption. Specifically, the papers provided insights into the following questions.

1. How does nostalgia affect consumer behavior?

In recent years, nostalgic appeals have grown increasingly popular in consumer product marketing and have been used to market a wide range of products and services, including soft drinks (e.g., Coca-Cola), automobiles (e.g., VW Beetle), fashion accessories (e.g., Fossil), fast food (e.g., Sonic), and financial planning (e.g., Smith-Barney). Over the past decade, nostalgia has also garnered a growing amount of attention from marketing and consumer behavior scholars (e.g., Holak and Havlena 1992; Holbrook 1993; Holbrook and Schindler 1994, 1996; Stern 1992). However, previous empirical studies of nostalgia have largely focused on the relationship between nostalgia proneness and preference for such cultural products as movie stars and motion pictures (e.g., Holbrook 1993; Holbrook and Schindler 1994, 1996). As a result, little is known about the role of nostalgia in shaping consumer behavior for material products and services, such as automobiles, soft drinks, or fast food.

The three papers in this session attempted to address this gap by examining how nostalgia is related to the preferences, meanings, and evaluations that consumers have for material products. For example, Schindler and Holbrook presented a study of consumers’ preferences for automobile styles using the type of time-dated stimuli employed in their previous studies of age-related preference for cultural products (e.g., Holbrook 1993; Holbrook and Schindler 1994, 1996). They find that men (but not women) prefer automobiles that were introduced during their youth and that this age-related preference is moderated by nostalgia proneness, as men who are more nostalgia prone prefer earlier automobile styles compared to men who are less nostalgia prone. Thus, Schindler and Holbrook’s study of automobiles replicates and extends their earlier findings of the moderating role of nostalgia proneness for preference for cultural products.

Like Schindler and Holbrook, the paper presented by Rindfleisch et al. also examines the role of nostalgia proneness for preference (and choice) for automobiles. However, while Schindler and Holbrook explore the moderating effects of nostalgia proneness, Rindfleisch et al. focus on the direct effect of nostalgia proneness on preference and choice. Specifically, they presented the results of two studies of how nostalgia proneness (an orientation to the past) and materialism (a focus on present wants and desires) affects preference and choice for various types of contemporary automobiles (e.g., a new VW Beetle vs. a Lexus GS300). They find that although materialism appears to hold some predictive validity in terms of preference and choice, nostalgia proneness does not.

Finally, Sprott and Silverman presented findings from three studies in which they examine the degree to which consumers hold nostalgic-related meanings for important objects (study 1) and branded products (study 2), as well as the impact of nostalgic appeals on brand-related behaviors (study 3). They find that approximately half of the important objects as well as half of the brands that consumers mentioned as "reminders of the past" were described by their subjects as having nostalgic associations. In addition, they find that individuals who provided nostalgic descriptions of objects tended to have higher levels of nostalgia proneness than those who did not provide nostalgic descriptions. However, they find no such relationship for branded products. Finally, Sprott and Silverman presented preliminary results which suggest that nostalgic appeals appear to be effective in eliciting alumni donations in an experimental study of charitable giving appals to Washington State University alumni.

In sum, the results of these three studies suggest that consumers appear to hold nostalgic-related meanings for important objects as well as for products that remind them of the past. In addition, nostalgic appeals appear to hold promise as a means of eliciting favorable consumer response. However, these studies provide mixed results regarding the influence of nostalgia proneness on preference and choice. Although nostalgia proneness appears to have little direct effect on preference or choice, it exhibits a moderating effect on the relationship between age and preference.

2. How is nostalgia measured?

As nostalgia research advances in the coming years, we believe that the specification and measurement of how consumers react to nostalgia will take on increased importance. Currently, the most widely used measure in the literature is Holbrook’s (1993) Nostalgia Scale (HNS). The HNS has both a 30-item long form and an 8-item short form and is "designed to represent the phenomenon of nostalgia proneness" (Holbrook 1993, p. 247). Thus, nostalgia-proneness has been conceived as an individual difference variable. Given its pre-eminence, all three papers in this session employed the (short form) HNS.

Schindler and Holbrook examine the convergent validity between the HNS and related constructs, including McKechnie’s (1977) Antiquarianism Scale and Taylor and Konrad’s (1980) Experience Scale, that measure personal dispositions toward the past. They find that both the Antiquarianism Scale and the Experience Scale, much like the HNS, also moderate (among men) the relationship between age and preference for automobile styles. Thus, Schindler and Holbrook’s research indicates that the HNS has strong convergent validity with two other measures that assess one’s liking for the past.

Rindfleisch et al. provided evidence of the discriminant validity of the HNS by presenting findings which suggest that nostalgia proneness is negatively associated with Richins and Dawson’s (1992) Material Values Scale. This negative relationship is congruent with previous research which suggests that materialistic individuals should display low levels of nostalgic sentiments (e.g., Belk and Costa 1998; Richins and Dawson 1992). However, this finding is somewhat cautionary, as the HNS appeared to be multi-dimensional in nature. Specifically, Rindfleisch et al. find that both exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis procedures reveal that the eight-item HNS appears to consist of two separate dimensions. The first dimension consists of such items as, "Things used to be better in the good old days;" while the second dimension consists of such items as, "Modern business constantly builds a better tomorrow." Rindfleisch et al. term the first dimension, "Product-Nostalgia," as the items in this dimension appear to reflect nostalgic feelings regarding products or objects. Likewise, they term the second dimension, "Life-Nostalgia," as the items in this dimension appear to reflect nostalgic feelings about life in general. Sprott and Silverman provide additional confirmation of this proposed dimensional structure by finding identical patterns of factor loadings in applications of the HNS in two of their studies. In addition, both sets of researchers find that the correlation between these two dimensions is relatively modest (i.e., r-.30), and that the reliability of the two dimensions is superior to the reliability of the overall scale.

In sum, while the HNS appears to exhibit both convergent and discriminant validity, this measure appears to be multidimensional in nature, as consumers’ nostalgic sentiments for products may be conceptually and empirically distinct from their nostalgic sentiments toward life in general.

3. What directions should future nostalgia research take?

Finally, the three papers in this session provided insights into avenues fr future research in this domain. For example, Schindler and Holbrook’s research reveals that nostalgic preference for automobiles from the past exists for men but not for women. This finding is congruent with earlier research which finds that nostalgic sentiments for cultural products appear to be stronger among men than women (e.g., Holbrook and Schindler 1994). Thus, gender differences in terms of the impact of nostalgia on consumer preference appears to be an emergent empirical generalization worthy of future research among other product or service domains. In addition, the causal factors behind this difference remain unknown. Is this a by-product of the stimuli employed in prior studies (e.g., movie stars, automobiles) or does this reflect an underlying difference in the socialization of males and females throughout the life cycle?

In addition to exploring gender differences, future research attention should also be devoted toward examining the manner in which nostalgia proneness in measured. As discussed earlier, findings by both Rindfleisch et al. and Sprott and Silverman suggest that the HNS is multidimensional in nature. In addition to having nostalgic sentiments toward products and life in general, consumers may also hold nostalgic feelings toward people, events, and experiences (Holak and Havlena 1992). Thus, future research efforts could be directed toward exploring a broader range of nostalgic-related domains and their relationships to products or services. It is likely that nostalgic sentiments associated with these various domains will hold important differences in how nostalgia influences consumer behavior. For example, while nostalgic sentiments toward life in general (i.e., a generalized preference for the past) may be negatively associated with preference for contemporary status objects (i.e., a new Lexus), nostalgic sentiments toward friends and family may be positively associated with such objects if they serve as markers or reminders of the objects that friends and family once owned or aspired to have.


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