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Seeking comfort in past media: Modeling media nostalgia as a way of coping with media change.

Coping with media change is the modus operandi in societies shaped by an ongoing media saturation of everyday lifeworlds. However, demands to participate in media change are sometimes perceived as challenging. In this regard, media nostalgia, understood as the longing for past media culture and technology, is introduced as a resource to cope with media change. Presenting results from an online survey, a structural equation model (SEM) illustrates that those who are stressed by media change draw on media nostalgia as a way of coping whereas media nostalgic engagements become unlikely when individuals feel comfortable with media change. This article argues that certain current individual and societal appearances of media nostalgia are related to people's coping attempts.

Keywords: media nostalgia, memory, new media, media change, coping strategies, digitalization, SEM, online survey

Nostalgia may tell us more about present moods than past realities. (Robert Nisbet, as cited in Davis, 1977, p. 416)

Nostalgia, the sentimental longing for the past, is a universal human experience based on various emotions that we find in various expressions in every past and present society (Bonnett, 2016; Hepper et al., 2014; Sedikides et al., 2015). This article examines one particular type of nostalgia, here referred to as media nostalgia, which describes the longing for past media culture and technology (e.g., Lizardi, 2015; Niemeyer, 2014; van der Heijden, 2015). Currently, we find many examples of media nostalgia, such as successful series like Mad Men, depicting the fascination with then new media technologies like television or photo projectors in the U.S. society of the 1960s (e.g., Bevan, 2013; Tudor, 2012). Moreover, a widespread fascination with analogue or vintage digital photography can be noted (e.g., Caoduro, 2014; Keightley & Pickering, 2014). Retro-gaming fan communities share, collect, and play their childhood games (e.g., Handberg, 2015; Heinemann, 2014), and numerous online communities exchange memories about media from their childhood (e.g., Kaun & Stiernstedt, 2014). This selection represents only a fraction of the multiple ways of media nostalgic longing for past media culture, technology, content, objects, aesthetics, and dynamics of communication. But where does this media nostalgia originate from, and what is its purpose for individuals and societies?

Similar questions were already raised by Fred Davis in the 1970s, who studied the U.S. "nostalgia wave" at that time, analytically tracing its origins back to the social and cultural changes of the 1960s. In his investigation, he claimed that rarely "in modern history the common man had his fundamental, taken-for-granted convictions about man, woman, habits, manners, laws, society and God... so challenged, disrupted and shaken" (Davis, 1977, p. 421). Accordingly, he diagnosed a collective identity crisis that called for nostalgia as a way of coping to overcome this perceived disruption by finding comfort in the certainties of the past (Davis, 1977).

Davis's analysis rather reflects a generational position of an involved spectator than an evidence-based approach, and therefore his claim of a nostalgia wave has to be treated with caution. His work has also been criticized with regard to how he reduces the role of the individual to a passive audience and does not incorporate how people might cope with societal change by employing creative nostalgic practices (Pickering & Keightley, 2006). Nevertheless, he is the first to connect nostalgia with coping and societal change. Over the last decades, a large number of investigations in social psychology thoroughly researched this relationship, providing strong support for Davis's argument that nostalgia can be a way of coping with psychological challenges in times of change (for literature review, see Sedikides et al., 2015).

But Davis discusses a second remarkable observation: He found nostalgia in the 1970s to evolve differently from earlier forms of nostalgia. He recognized a shift in the landscape of nostalgia that formerly was "inhabited mainly by persons, places, and events of political or civic character" to a landscape predominantly inhabited by "media creations, personalities, and allusions" (Davis, 1979, p. 125). From now on, he stated, nostalgia mostly became a dwelling on "media celebrities, old movies, TV shows, popular music styles, and dated speech mannerisms" (Davis, 1979, p. 125). Davis traced this new predominance of mass-mediated nostalgia back to an increasing pervasiveness of mass media and their new prominent role in people's "mental lives" (Davis, 1979, pp. 126-127).

Today, we are experiencing yet another shift of media's role in societies that particularly explains the current presence of media nostalgia. Media not only have become portals of mass-mediated nostalgia, as described by Davis, but also are becoming objects of people's longing themselves. The reason for this second shift that puts media in the center of nostalgic attention lies in the increasing importance of mediated communication in everyday lifeworlds. Applying Davis's (1979) wording, we are no longer simply confronted with a pervasion of people's "mental lives" by mass media communication (p. 127), but with an extensive pervasion of people's 'social lives' by hyperconnected, mediated, (interpersonal) communication (Hoskins, 2014; Livingstone, 2009). Consequently, we have to cope with many challenges regarding new media technology as well as mediated social relations. Media change turned out to be a major disrupting and shaking factor, impacting societies from the societal macro level down to the micro level of people's lifeworlds (e.g., Hall & Baym, 2012; Livingstone, 2004; Selwyn, 2003; Weinstein & Selman, 2016). Linking this to Davis's strongly supported argument that nostalgia allows coping with change, this article argues that certain current appearances of media nostalgia are related to people's attempts to cope with social and cultural alterations in media societies.

This article provides an introduction to the concept of coping to identify the different strategies people employ to handle change. Subsequently, media nostalgia will be depicted in its psychological potential for coping, and the argument that the current presence of media nostalgia is to some extent a reaction to media change will be theoretically and empirically revisited.

The Concept of Coping

Coping refers to "a response aimed at diminishing the physical, emotional, and psychological burden that is linked to stressful life events and daily hassles" (Snyder & Dinoff, 1999, p. 5). Usually, stress can range from tremendous life-changing events (e.g., illnesses or a close person's death; Austenfeld & Stanton, 2004; Dempsey, Overstreet, & Moely, 2000), to constant or situational stress in the everyday life of romantic relationships, adolescence, families, work places, and so forth (e.g., Folkman & Lazarus, 1980; Pearlin & Schooler, 1978).

A long tradition of research discovered a core set of coping strategies people draw on when confronted with stress. Carver and colleagues' (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989) COPE Inventory gives an impression of the large variety: (1) active coping, (2) planning, (3) suppression of competing activities, (4) restraint coping, (5) seeking social support for instrumental help, (6) seeking social support for emotional reasons, (7) positive reinterpretation and growth, (8) acceptance, (9) turning to religion, (10) focus on and venting emotions, (11) denial, (12) behavioral disengagement, (13) mental disengagement, and (14) alcohol or drug disengagement.

Based on Folkman and Lazarus (1980), coping strategies can be subsumed in two categories: Coping aims either at "the management or alteration of the person-environment relationship that is the source of stress" or at "the regulation of stressful emotions" (Folkman and Lazarus, 1980, p. 223) without solving the stressor itself. For the scope of this study, it is fruitful to follow research categorizing coping in line with this as approach coping, when individuals aim at approaching the stressor to solve the problem, and avoidance coping, when individuals aim at avoiding the stressor and are focusing on emotional relief instead (e.g., Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2000).

Carver and Connor-Smith (2010) state that "active attempts to solve problems and change circumstances are helpful for controllable stressors but are potentially harmful as responses to uncontrollable stressors" (p. 694). Literature also reports evidence that avoidance coping is dysfunctional over time (Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010; Nielsen & Knardahl, 2014). However, negative interpretations of avoidance coping made way for more complex understandings (Austenfeld & Stanton, 2004; Zellars, Liu, Bratton, Brymer, & Perrewe, 2004). For example, avoidance coping that focuses on emotional well-being instead of solving the problem can be useful "in situations where the individual is not ready to actively undertake the problem, or where the situation is resistant to change" (Zellars et al., 2004, p. 551).

In addition, it is relevant that individuals develop stable coping preferences. Carver et al. (1989) argue that "people tend to adopt certain coping tactics as relatively stable preferences" (p. 280) and that certain coping strategies are linked to certain personality traits. Approach temperament is related to extraversion, positive emotionality, and sociability, whereas avoidance temperament is related to neuroticism, sadness, distress, and physiological arousal. Following Carver and Connor-Smith (2010), it is assumed that the constantly evolving media change forces individuals to develop preferences and heuristics on how to deal with change over time and across many situations.

At first sight, coping is solely an individual reaction. Nevertheless, we have to think of coping not only as a response in an isolated situation, but as being strongly related to a social or even societal context. Following Pearlin and Schooler (1978), coping refers to "a behavior that importantly mediates the impact that societies have on their members" (p. 2). With this perspective, the authors embed individual coping within the larger societal frame, as is the aim of this article, too.

Media Nostalgia and Coping With Media Change

In the following, the psychological potential of nostalgia will be discussed to explain how people's nostalgia is connected to avoidance and approach coping. This article is concerned with nostalgia only as a reaction to stress and does not focus on the many other forms of nostalgia that are unrelated to coping, such as people's sole sentiment for the culture, aesthetics, and objects of the past.


The term nostalgia was coined by Johannes Hofer in 1688 as a medical term for homesickness and is composed of nostos (reverse, return) and algos (pain, suffering) describing the painful longing for home (Boym, 2001; Hofer, 1688). Today, nostalgia is conceptualized much more broadly than the original longing for a place--it also comprises the longing for a specific time that is lost and is nostalgically constructed in contrast to the present (Higson, 2014). Even though it is not often made explicit in the literature, all conceptualizations of nostalgia are based on the notion of change; nostalgia affectively links between the time before and after a perceived change. In nostalgic engagements, this before that has been lost is considered superior to what the present has changed into (Volkan, 1999). Yet this does not mean it actually was superior, because nostalgic remembering is biased toward the positive aspects of the past and tends to disregard what has been negative (Sedikides et al., 2015).

Such nostalgic constructions of the past involve not only personal but also collective memories shared among the members of a society. It is the interplay of both by which an individual creates an image of the past that is not only relying on personal memories of primary experiences but also is composed of and influenced by depictions of the past, e.g., in mass media, museums, and history textbooks (Kalinina & Menke, 2016; Niemeyer, 2014; Pickering & Keightley, 2006).

However, it is not only memory where the dimensions of the individual and the collective merge in nostalgic engagements. It is also the overlapping of individual and collective accounts of identity. Davis (1979) argues that societies sometimes experience discontinuity of collective identity due to a crises caused by societal change. Yet, individually, this manifests in a struggle over identity one has to cope with in the realms of one's lifeworld. As Goran Bolin (2016) showed, this manifests, for example, in nostalgic identity construction related to generational media experiences influencing the identity of each individual from that generation. Therefore, even though the psychological nexus of nostalgia and coping is anchored in the individual, it is important to be mindful of the complex processes relating the individual to society. Individual identity and memory are ultimately intertwined with their collective counterparts (Hirst & Manier, 2008).

In particular, research by the Southampton Research Group contributed to a broader understanding of nostalgia's psychological potential as a specific way of coping (Hepper, Ritchie, Sedikides, & Wildschut, 2012; Sedikides et al., 2015). Their joint definition illustrates nostalgia's versatility:
... nostalgia [is] a complex emotion that involves past-oriented
cognition and a mixed affective signature.... When waxing nostalgic,
one remembers, thinks about, reminisces about, or dwells on a memory
from one's past.... One often views the memory through rose-tinted
glasses, misses that time or person, longs for it, and may even wish to
return to the past. As a result, one typically feels emotional, most
often happy but with a sense of loss and longing; other less common
feelings include comfort, calm, regret, sadness, pain, or an overall
sense of bitter sweetness. (Nostalgia Research Group, 2017, para. 1)

Beside the central components of nostalgia, such as memory, romanticization, and sentimental longing, this definition emphasizes the complex "mixed affective signature" (Nostalgia Research Group, 2017). Many studies show that people engaging in nostalgia in times of stress report an increase in positive mood, self-positivity, perception of a positive future, meaning of life, perceived continuity of life, belongingness, and social connectedness (Sedikides et al., 2015). Nostalgia adds a wistful flavor to memories and allows coping with difficult situations in the present, such as a crisis of identity, loneliness, illness, or the loss of social relations by finding comfort in the past (e.g., Boym, 2001; Davis, 1979; Kaun & Stiernstedt, 2014; Routledge, Arndt, Sedikides, & Wildschut, 2008). Despite nostalgia's depiction as bittersweet, it mainly evokes positive emotions and is therefore understood as psychologically stabilizing (e.g., Barrett et al., 2010; Batcho, 2007; Hepper et al., 2012; Stephan, Sedikides, & Wildschut, 2012).

Media Nostalgia

Nostalgia is often triggered by media because many memories about the past are accessible through media (Pickering & Keightley, 2006). Yet media nostalgia as investigated in this article differs from other types of nostalgia in the way media are involved. With media nostalgia, media culture, technology, or content are at the center of the nostalgic longing. Media nostalgia is thus nostalgia toward media, whereas in other forms of nostalgic engagements, media serve only as mediators or portals to media-unrelated experiences from the past, which is then called mediated nostalgia (Lizardi, 2015; Niemeyer, 2014).

The following example will illustrate the difference: Somebody watches a TV show from the 1970s to feel comfortable. We speak of mediated nostalgia if this person is nostalgic about aspects of the 1970s or her childhood. It becomes media nostalgia if she sees an old telephone and becomes nostalgic about old media devices and former ways of mediated communication or if she had watched that show as a child and develops a longing for the comfort felt during that media reception.

The introductory examples illustrated that media nostalgia occurs in highly diverse forms: Being stressed by media change may result in media nostalgic reminiscence and behavior, such as mentally longing for a past without certain new media, actually using former media, or sharing media-related memories in online communities. Thereby, media nostalgia understood as a reaction to media change is focusing on past experiences with media culture and technology. Sometimes, this means turning to media content; in other cases, it means embracing outdated media technology with its formerly genuine social and cultural significance, aesthetic, style, way of operation, smell, or haptic (e.g., Heinemann, 2014; Kaun & Stiernstedt, 2014; Lizardi, 2015; Niemeyer, 2014; Onion, 2008).

Media Nostalgia and Coping

Previously, nostalgia was introduced as a reaction to stress in times of change, and media nostalgia was specified as a possible reaction to stress caused by media change's influence on people's lifeworlds. Even though an extensive body of research investigates nostalgia's coping potential in general, media nostalgia as a way of coping has not been investigated. As social psychology is more interested in basic psychological relations, we hardly find any specific forms of nostalgia and how they address stress. Nevertheless, as the various engagements in nostalgia share the same psychological coping potential, it is argued that insights from previous research are applicable to media nostalgia as well.

Empirically, nostalgia is measured as nostalgia proneness, capturing the personal relevancy and frequency of nostalgic engagements. This focus allows linking nostalgia proneness to coping and personality traits, as they all qualify as universal psychological concepts (Hepper et al., 2014). Barrett et al. (2010), for example, found that nostalgia proneness and the personality trait neuroticism are positively related. Stephan et al. (2014) discovered that nostalgia proneness is positively related to avoidance motivation but also instigates approach motivation, and Wildschut et al. (2014) yielded a connection of nostalgia proneness with social connectedness and communitization.

Additionally, Batcho (2013) particularly analyzed the associations between the COPE Inventory by Carver et al. (1989) and nostalgia proneness. She revealed that nostalgia proneness correlates significantly with modes of social support and avoidance coping, such as seeking emotional social support or expressing emotions. (2) Surprisingly, however, Batcho found no correlations between nostalgia proneness and avoidance strategies like denial and behavioral disengagement, which is "inconsistent with theories that conceptualize nostalgia as an unhealthy preoccupation with the past that inhibits realistic problem solving and encourages avoidance or escapist behaviors or processes" (Batcho, 2013, pp. 359-360).

Even though Batcho is supported by Sedikides et al. (2015) in her criticism of theories that conceptualize nostalgia as unhealthy, the assumption that avoidance coping is unrelated to nostalgia might not hold true. Avoidance coping has proven to be a helpful behavior to distance oneself from a problem and to maintain emotional well-being when a stressor cannot be solved (Zellars et al., 2004).

Altogether, comprehensive research indicates a relation between coping and nostalgia that empirically supports the theoretical claim that media nostalgia can be a powerful way of coping with media change.

Media Nostalgia in Media Societies

Media and society have always been highly interwoven, yet, in the 21st century, digitalization added to media's saturation of lifeworlds not only as mass media content on numerous additional channels online but also as technologies (especially smartphones and social networking sites (SNS)), allowing mediated (interpersonal) communication (Gorman & McLean, 2009). Thus, media change includes not only the transformation of media systems on the macro level--such as media economy, media production, and media content--but also the penetration and transformation of individuals' communication among each other, as was sharply pointed out by Lievrouw and Livingstone (2009):
No part of the world, no human activity, is untouched by the new media.
Societies worldwide are being reshaped, for better or for worse, by
changes in the global media and information environment. So, too, are
the everyday lives of their citizens. (p. xxi)

Some scholars (e.g., Mark Deuze) even push the argument that "our life is lived in, rather than with, media" (Deuze, 2011, p. 138). In this regard, members of hyperconnected media societies increasingly communicate under the assumption that everybody is skilled and willing to be online, has a smartphone, and uses social networking sites (Hoskins, 2014; Kaun & Schwarzenegger, 2014; Livingstone, 2009). Even the most intimate personal relations are increasingly shaped by mediated communication (e.g., Baym, Zhang, Kunkel, Ledbetter, & Lin, 2007).

There are numerous reasons for (partial) inabilities or refusals to participate in media change, such as not understanding how new ICTs work, not seeing the benefit of using them, not being able to afford them, or refusing their rules and dynamics of communication. As a result, people may feel excluded from cultural and social exchange, discourses, and decisions in media societies (Kaun & Schwarzenegger, 2014; Selwyn, 2003). At the same time, many people who do adapt to alterations are stressed by expectations of constant and instant communication, by managing their digital identities, and keeping pace with new media technologies (e.g., Hall & Baym, 2012; Weinstein & Selman, 2016).

These examples underscore the pressure on individuals and explain the sentiment for past media that one was able to operate and trust in, that one perceived as beautiful and did not feel smothered by communicatively. Coping with these issues would mean to contrast sentimental memories of a past media culture with the contemporary media culture by relating to one's media biography or even favored historical times. This comprises longing for old past media but also longing for a time without today's media technology and culture. Such longing would regain self-confidence and reestablish continuity of identity by nostalgically remembering times that are in retrospect perceived as less stressful and in which media-related communication demands could be met. When media nostalgia is a reaction to such demands in the present, researching and understanding media nostalgia offers important insights into people's perception of media change in contemporary societies.

Proposed Model

Based on the literature review, individuals' media nostalgic coping will be theoretically contextualized and established in a series of hypotheses tested with a structural equation model (SEM). The paths represented in the model are based on the theoretically anticipated causalities between the operationalized constructs of avoidance and approach coping, nostalgia proneness, being stressed by media change, being comfortable with media change, and media nostalgia. The proposed model is presented in Figure 1.


It was argued that coping strategies are rather stable because they are connected to personality traits: approach temperament to extraversion and avoidance temperament to neuroticism (Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010). Furthermore, individuals create preferences over time and over multiple situations (Carver et al., 1989; Nielsen & Knardahl, 2014; Zellars et al., 2004). It is hypothesized that:
H1:   Avoidance coping and approach coping are opposing strategies
      usually employed by people with different personality traits and
      are expected to be negatively related.

Nevertheless, both of these coping strategies do predict nostalgia proneness, since nostalgia proneness was found to be positively related to either avoidance and approach coping. In this regard, previous studies suggest that avoidance coping is more strongly related to neuroticism and nostalgia proneness, and thus should predict nostalgia proneness better than approach coping (Barrett et al., 2010; Sedikides et al., 2015; Stephan et al., 2012).
H2a:   Avoidance coping is more strongly related to neuroticism and
       nostalgia proneness.
H2b:   Avoidance coping should predict nostalgia proneness better than
       approach coping.

Approach and avoidance coping also differ in their long-term effects concerning the emotional well-being and attitudes toward media change. Whereas approach coping is expected to facilitate being comfortable with media change, avoidance coping is assumed to predict being stressed by media change in the long term (Austenfeld & Stanton, 2004; Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010; Zellars et al., 2004).
H3a:   Approach coping is expected to facilitate being comfortable with
       media change.
H3b:   Avoidance coping is assumed to predict being stressed by media
       change in the long term.

Moreover, as nostalgia proneness is related positively with neuroticism and is thereby characteristic for people who are easily stressed and tend to engage in avoidance coping (Barrett et al., 2010), nostalgia proneness should have a positive relation with being stressed by media change. Still, a positive relation with being comfortable with media change is also assumed because nostalgia can likewise instigate approach coping (Stephan et al., 2014).
H4a:   Nostalgia proneness has a positive relation with being
       comfortable with media change.
H4b:   Nostalgia proneness should also have a positive relation with
       being stressed by media change.

Nostalgia proneness is also expected to be positively associated with media nostalgia because being generally inclined to nostalgia should make a media-nostalgic way of coping more likely (Batcho, 2013; Sedikides et al., 2015).
H5:   Nostalgia proneness is positively associated with media nostalgia.

Being comfortable with media change and being stressed by media change are contradictory conditions whereby they should have a negative relationship.
H6a:   Being comfortable with media change should have a negative
       relationship with being stressed by media change.
H6b:   In return, being stressed by media change would also be
       negatively related to being comfortable with media change.

Finally, being comfortable with media change should decrease the likelihood to engage in media nostalgia, whereas being stressed by media change should predict engagement in media nostalgia as a reaction to stress (Barrett et al., 2010; Batcho, 2013; Davis, 1979; Pickering & Keightley, 2006; Sedikides et al., 2015).
H7a:   Being comfortable with media change should decrease the
       likelihood of engaging in media nostalgia.
H7b:   Being stressed by media change should predict engagement in
       media nostalgia.


Sample and Procedure

A cross-sectional online survey was conducted (N = 665). It was distributed in two steps: First, a link posted by students was shared on the SNS Facebook. To achieve an equal distribution in age and gender, the second step countered the over proportionally young and female respondents with a ratio schedule. Students selected fitting respondents among their personal contacts who received the link via e-mail or filled out the survey together with assistance of a student if they were not able to operate a computer. The final average age in the sample is 38 years (min 14; max 90 years, SD = 18.6) with 59% females. With 45.9% higher education entrance qualifications and 25.4% university degrees, the sample is biased toward higher education. Respondents' current occupations distribute to 3.9 % pupils, 34.3% students, 43.5% in jobs, 4.1% homemakers, 11.6% pensioners, and 2.7% others.

The sample is not representative because the aim was to achieve maximal variety among respondents to investigate a psychological phenomenon among individuals with different age, gender, education, and occupational status and not to make claims about the distribution of nostalgia in a certain population. However, most respondents were contacted via posts on a SNS, which means that the sample is biased toward new media affine individuals. Media change might be perceived less challenging among the respondents compared with non-users, and their nostalgia could be less strong. Yet this means that results rather underestimate than overestimate the psychological relationship between coping with media change and media nostalgia.


Five main constructs were incorporated in the questionnaire: (1) coping, (2) attitudes and emotions toward media change, (3) general stress by media change, (4) nostalgia proneness, and (5) media nostalgia toward technology and media nostalgia toward content. Each construct comprises several variables in mean indices (Table 1).

Coping was measured in recourse to the COPE Inventory by Carver et al. (1989). Five coping strategies were selected that were identified as applicable to approach coping and avoidance coping and appeared relevant for nostalgia. Based on findings of Sedikides et al. (2015) and Batcho (2013), these were for approach coping: active coping and seeking social support for instrumental reasons. For avoidance coping, denial, behavioral disengagement, and mental disengagement were chosen. Each coping strategy was measured with four items (see Carver et al., 1989). Respondents were asked what they usually do in stressful situations on a 4-point Likert scale from never to most of the time (e.g., active coping: "I do what has to be done, one step at a time"; behavioral disengagement: "I reduce the amount of effort I'm putting into solving the problem"; mental disengagement: "I turn to work or other substitute activities to take my mind off things"). Reliability measurements for approach coping ([alpha] = .72, M = 2.95, SD = .56) and avoidance coping ([alpha] = .81, M = 1.74, SD = .52) are good with a Cronbach's alpha above .60.

Attitudes and emotions toward media change were measured in two ways. Respondents were asked to answer 12 statements about media change and how much they agreed with them (5-point Likert scale, not at all to completely). The six negative items constitute the scale negative attitudes toward media change ([alpha] = .71, M = 3.11, SD = 0.76), and the six positive items constitute the scale positive attitudes toward media change ([alpha] = .78, M = 3.57, SD = 0.81)--for example, would you say that "new media technology demands too much of you sometimes" or that "arranging your leisure time became more spontaneous because of new media"? The second set contains eight items measuring the affective state concerning media change. Respondents were asked how they feel when thinking about the alterations in their lifeworlds and society with respect to media change (5-point Likert scale, not at all to completely). Items included, for example, "intimidated," "afraid," "thrilled," and "optimistic. " Again, items were assembled to two mean indices: negative emotions toward media change ([alpha] = .67, M = 2.68, SD = 0.86) and positive emotions toward media change ([alpha] = .82, M = 3.27, SD = 0.81).

General stress by media change was measured with one item. Respondents were asked, "How much do you feel stressed by alterations in your everyday life caused by media change?" with responses on a 5-point Likert scale from not at all to very much. The items from attitudes and emotions toward media change and general stress by media change comprise different dimensions to measure the same phenomenon--perception of media change--and result in the two constructs in the model labeled as comfortable with media change and stressed by media change.

Nostalgia proneness was assessed based on the Southampton Nostalgia Scale (Barrett et al., 2010; Routledge et al., 2008). Five questions assessed the personal importance of nostalgia (7-point Likert scale, not at all to very much; e.g., "How valuable is nostalgia for you?" or "How significant is it for you to feel nostalgic?"), and two items assessed the frequency of nostalgic engagement (7-point Likert scale, very rarely to very frequently; "How often do you experience nostalgia?" and "Generally speaking, how often do you bring to mind nostalgic experiences?"). All items were subsumed in a mean index ([alpha] = .92, M = 3.74, SD = 1.38).

To assess media nostalgia, the operationalization solely focused on media nostalgic longing as a psychological resource and not on the huge variety of practices. Two scales of media nostalgia were included, representing longing for media technology and media content. Both included items measuring how often respondents thought that the aspects asked in the statements were better in the past compared with the present (5-point Likert scale, never to very frequently). Media nostalgia toward technology contained four items ([alpha] = .68, M = 2.76, SD = .89)--for example, "Life in the past was easier without new media technology" or "The world had a more distinct order without new media technology. " In these cases, technology represents the communication culture connected to new media and demanding communication dynamics in today's lifeworlds in comparison to a time without such demands. Media nostalgia toward content was composed of three items, with an a-value slightly below the desirable .60 that focused on media nostalgia toward mass media content ([alpha] = .56; M = 2.96, SD = .95): How often do you think that "TV programs were better in the past," "movies were better in the past," and "journalism was better in the past?" With these items, change of mass media that is not connected to mediated social relations was included and thereby more strongly integrates media nostalgia with media change on a macro level. In Table 1, all zero-order correlations, means, and standard deviations are provided.


The hypothesized model in Figure 1 was computed with the maximum likelihood method in Amos 22. The fit statistics for the tested model indicate a good fit for the data: [chi square](27) = 74.44, p < .001, CMIN/df = 2.75, CFI = .974, RMSEA = .051, SRMR = .033. (3)

Subsequently, results are presented in order of the introduced hypotheses. As suggested in H1, we find a negative correlation of approach and avoidance coping (r = -.17).

Concerning their associations with nostalgia proneness, both approach coping ([beta] = .12, p < .01) and avoidance coping ([beta] = .28, p < .001) predict nostalgia proneness. The results confirm H2a and H2b and additionally support the assumption that avoidance coping is stronger associated with nostalgia proneness.

Furthermore, approach coping shows a significant positive association with comfort with media change ([beta] = .19, p < .001). Avoidance coping is positively associated with being stressed by media change ([beta] = .09, p < .05). Thus, H3a and H3b are also confirmed, even though the effect of avoidance coping is rather weak and only moderately significant.

Nostalgia proneness, as suggested in H4a and H4b, predicts both being comfortable with media change ([beta] = .09, p < .05) and being stressed by media change ([beta] = .26, p < .001). However, we find only a moderately significant effect of nostalgia proneness on being comfortable with media change.

Concerning the prediction of nostalgia proneness for media nostalgia, the model indicates a highly significant positive association ([beta] = .20, p < .001) that confirms H5.

The assumed mutual negative influence between being comfortable with and being stressed by media change only held true for one direction: Being stressed by media change strongly predicts being less comfortable with media change (H6a; [beta] = -.67, p < .001), whereas, in turn, being comfortable with media change is no predictor for being stressed by media change (H6b; [beta] = -.08, p = .673). Therefore, H6b had to be rejected and the path was excluded from the model (dotted path in Figure 1).

Finally, being comfortable with media change is negatively associated with media nostalgia ([beta] = -.16, p < .01), which supports H7a. On the contrary, being stressed by media change strongly predicts being media nostalgic ([beta] = .58, p < .001) and thereby confirms H7b.


In recent years nostalgia and media nostalgia were empirically investigated in two ways: Researchers from social psychology mainly studied nostalgia proneness as a resource for coping without including aspects of media while case studies examined media nostalgia without referring to the psychological framework of coping. The aim of this article was to combine these two branches of research and to explore media nostalgia by investigating the psychological nexus it originates from.

As pointed out before, media change is a societal process and people are challenged by the demands they are confronted with in their everyday lifeworlds. Media nostalgia was introduced as a way to cope with the stress caused by these demands. The model at hand supports this assumption and additionally explains who is inclined to media nostalgic longing.

An initial point for the analysis was the concept of coping and if certain strategies of coping can explain a tendency to draw on media nostalgia. Results show that this is actually the case with approach and avoidance coping. Not only are they different in their response to the challenges caused by media change but also in who is predominantly employing them. Approach coping is about solving or at least adapting to a stressor and in the case of media change we find that strategy leading to being comfortable with media change ([beta] = .19, p < .001). Yet approach coping is not solely responsible for this relation. Studies have shown that individuals employing approach coping tend to be social, extroverted, and more open to new tasks and thereby perceive change generally as less demanding. Even though not included in the model, literature shows that personality is a confounding variable that not only predicts which coping strategies individuals engage in but also how intensely change is perceived as stressful (Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010).

These results are not only important to understand that individuals with an approach strategy are coping more effectively with media change. It also reveals the conditions that decrease the psychological necessity to engage in media nostalgia. The more comfortable individuals are with media change, the less media nostalgic they become ([beta] = -.16, p < .01). The model confirms that the less one perceives media change as stressful, the less it causes a feeling of excessive demand one has to cope with. Subsequently, one is less required to draw on media nostalgia (Sedikides et al., 2015). Therefore, the study reveals that the psychological benefit assigned to nostalgia becomes needless when there is no stress negatively affecting one's emotional well-being.

At the same time, the model indicates a positive relation of nostalgia proneness with approach coping ([beta] = .12, p < .01) and being comfortable with media change ([beta] = .09, p < .05). This stresses that even though there is less media nostalgic engagement when individuals feel comfortable with media change, nostalgia still has a role in the process, as nostalgia proneness can facilitate active and social approach coping (Batcho, 2013; Sedikides et al., 2015; Wildschut et al., 2014). Thereby, the model supports the literature in the assumption that approaching problems can be instigated by nostalgia and that some individuals act on their nostalgia proneness to cope with media change.

After discussing who is not inclined to draw on media nostalgia, the focus will now be on the conditions that facilitate engagement in media nostalgia. As suspected, the model shows a strong relationship between being stressed by media change and media nostalgia ([beta] = .58, p < .001). This association supports the main argument of this article: When media change is perceived as stressful, individuals are coping with the experienced demand by media nostalgic longing to maintain emotional well-being. Even more so, the study allows assuming that media nostalgia is mainly about the challenges people are facing with technology and mediated communication in social relations. That is supported by the correlations in Table 1: media nostalgia toward technology is highly correlated with general stress by media change (r = .43, p < .01), negative attitudes (r = .55, p < .01), and negative emotions (r = .50, p < .01) toward media change. This supports the postulation that the shift from mainly mass-mediated communication to increasingly mediated interpersonal communication leaves its signature in a media-nostalgic focus on media culture and technology from the past. This does not represent a longing for media technologies as objects, but for the state of the world they represent in contrast to today's societies, which are highly saturated with new media technologies. It is about being included and being able to participate back then and feeling overwhelmed by communication expectations or even (partially) unconnected and excluded today. Media technology is increasingly required for social and societal participation, yet keeping up with media change is challenging. Consequently, it seems to be a reasonable reaction to find psychological relief by mentally engaging with the past, where media were perceived as manageable and less demanding concerning social interaction. This is also represented in answers to an open question in the survey, were many responses followed this media nostalgic tone:
When everybody is addicted to their smartphones (I am already addicted
as well) and is walking around with all this new media technology and
everything is connected and technical, I sometimes simply long for the
past in which one was not depending on technology, not sharing
everything and making everything public. (Student, age 18)

When I look at my overfilled mail account (currently 1,159 unread
mails) from time to time I want back the times in which communication
was mainly over the phone. (Worker, age 54)

The constant use of smartphones, like when you are eating together with
others, it can happen that the conversation lapses into complete
silence because everybody is absorbed by their mobile. (Student, age 20)

Considering these statements, media nostalgic longing is probably far more common than it is openly observable in practices and content. Public media nostalgia is only the famous tip of the iceberg, whereas in most cases media nostalgia will be a personal state of mind and, at best, a topic discussed with friends or colleagues.

That is also supported by the insight the model allows concerning who engages in media nostalgia. We know from the literature that those who are nostalgia prone and employ avoidance coping also tend to be stressed more easily, are more introverted, and are more anxious than those who approach problems (Barrett et al., 2010; Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010). Thereby, it is unlikely that individuals with strong neuroticism will act on their media nostalgia socially and publicly. Those employing avoidance coping are more nostalgia prone ([beta] = .28, p < .001) and consequently more stressed by media change ([beta] = .26, p < .001). Avoiding the challenges experienced in media change leads them to engage in (assumedly private) media nostalgia ([beta] = .58, p < .001) to emotionally adjust to the perceived stress.

Finally, elaborating on the contradictory results to Batcho (2013) concerning avoidance coping is necessary. The model demonstrates that avoidance coping ([beta] = .28, p < .001) predicts nostalgia proneness better than approach coping ([beta] = .12, p < .01). This is not in line with Batcho's (2013) findings that suggest no correlation between avoidance coping in terms of denial and disengagement strategies. A reason for this inconsistency might be the different measures of nostalgia proneness. In Batcho's (2007) Nostalgia Inventory, the social component is prominently featured (e.g., missing family, friends, school, church, having someone to depend on) which probably makes extroverted, social, approaching participants easily relate to nostalgia proneness. At the same time, introverted and neurotic participants that score high on avoidance coping might not be equally nostalgic about these social aspects of their past. The Southampton Nostalgia Scale (Barrett et al., 2010; Routledge et al., 2008) used in this study, however, focuses solely on the frequency and intensity of general nostalgia proneness without linking it to specific (social) contexts. Thus, we find no bias concerning participants' personality traits, but instead a strong significant relation between avoidance coping and nostalgia proneness.

Summarizing, the model shows that on one side there are individuals that tend to employ approach coping who are comfortable with media change and thus do not engage in media nostalgia. On the other side, individuals employing avoidance coping use media nostalgia as a way to handle stress caused by media change and focus on their emotional well-being. Consequently, engaging in media nostalgia is related to a limited ability to approach challenges and to adapt to media change in the long run (Sedikides et al., 2015; Wildschut et al., 2014). Even though this analytically suggests a categorization of two types of people following different paths of coping with media change, it does not mean that they exist in absolute isolation. These two strategies are characterized by dominant tendencies that can be pinned to certain personality traits, but it is reasonable that people employ both types to a certain amount, depending on their current possibilities and mental states (Zellars et al., 2004).

The aim of this article is not to argue that it is indispensable for every individual to participate in media change. However, it is essential to recognize how those who are forced or feel the need to adapt to new media technology and communication in contemporary and future lifeworlds cope with this situation. In that regard, nostalgia in general and media nostalgia in particular are not to be condemned. Media nostalgia is not the problem, but is one possible manifestation of individuals' coping with stress in media societies. The appearance of media nostalgia in society should be understood as an indicator for people's perception of media change as challenging. Media nostalgia has important psychological value for those who are struggling with change. In that manner, the presented study contributes to a more profound understanding of media nostalgia's role in media societies.

Limitations and Future Research

The conceptualization of media nostalgia used in the study solely concentrated on media nostalgic longing and needs more exploration. That especially applies for the negative operationalization of media nostalgia as a longing for a time that was better without new media. Even though this approach was useful to emphasize nostalgia as a reaction to change because it emphasizes the contrast between the now and then, future research should also include what people are precisely longing for in past media technology and culture. Additionally, examining the big variety of media nostalgic practices will definitely yield a deeper understanding of the purposes and ways of media nostalgic coping with change.

The same accounts for coping strategies. The study included a brief selection of five coping strategies from the COPE Inventory (Carver et al., 1989), subsumed in avoidance and approach coping. Follow-up research is encouraged to expand the range of coping strategies at this point. But it might be even more important to adjust the items to specific questions about how respondents cope with challenging situations directly related to media. This can enable the study of media nostalgia and coping with a closer focus on media change.

It is also essential to further reflect on the limitations of the model. The modeled setting does not fully mirror the complexity of the processes actually taking place. Nostalgia proneness, media change, and media nostalgia are interrelated and reinforce each other in reciprocal relations, whereby they influence the way individuals are adjusting their coping strategies. It is not possible to map this complexity with the still frame enabled by a cross-sectional survey. Longitudinal as well as experimental designs are needed to verify the indications of the study at hand, especially concerning the proposed outcome of emotional well-being.

Finally, in a sociological perspective, there are many different ways in which media nostalgia on the individual level could also influence the societal processes of media change (e.g., by bringing attention to undesirable media developments, by communitization through shared nostalgic hobbies, simply by demanding nostalgic designs and features in new media technologies). Future research should address these questions by further linking the individual (psychological/micro) and the societal (sociological/macro) aspects of media change and media nostalgia.


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University of Augsburg, Germany

Manuel Menke:

Date submitted: 2016-03-02

Copyright [c] 2017 (Manuel Menke). Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd). Available at

(1) I gratefully acknowledge the editor, managing editor, and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and input. I would also like to thank Katharina Lobinger and Philipp Muller for their valuable remarks and support as well as the students that helped to conduct the study.

(2) Because of a different use of terminology, Batcho (2013) does not subsume these coping strategies under the term avoidance, but labels them "emotion-focused."

(3) As suggested by Hooper et al. (2008) and Hu and Bentler (1999), model fit was tested with multiple fit indices. For an acceptable model fit certain cutoff criteria have to be considered. Minimum discrepancy statistic (CMIN/df) should at least be below 5.0, CFI should be above .95, RMSEA be .06 or less, and SRMR .09 or less.
Table 1. Zero-Order Correlations, Means, and Standard Deviations.

Variables                 M      SD      1         2           3

Coping Strategies
   Approach              2.95   0.56    -
   Avoidance             1.74   0.52    -.17 (**) -
Stressed by
   Media Change
   Gerenal Stress        2.60   1.05    .02        .12 (**)    -
   by Media Change
   Negative Attitudes    3.11   0.76    .00        .09 (*)     .54 (**)
   Media Change
   Negative Emotions     2.58   0.93    .01        .21 (**)    .49 (**)
   Media Change
Comfortable with
Media Change
   Positive Attitudes    3.57   0.81    .16 (**)  -.01        -.17 (**)
   Media Change
   Positive Emotions     3.27   0.81    .16 (**)  -.06        -.30 (**)
   Media Change
Nostalgia Proneness
   Nostalgia             3.74   1.38    .07        .26 (**)    .25 (**)
Media Nostalgia
   Media Nostalgia       2.72   0.96   -.01        .11 (**)    .43 (**)
   Media Nostalgia       2.95   1.06   -.07        .13 (**)    .19 (**)
   C ontent

Variables              4              5            6             7

Coping Strategies
Stressed by
   Media Change
   Gerenal Stress
   by Media Change
   Negative Attitudes  -
   Media Change
   Negative Emotions    .65 (**)      -
   Media Change
Comfortable with
Media Change
   Positive Attitudes  -.40 (**)      -.37 (**)    -
   Media Change
   Positive Emotions   -.50 (**)      -.41 (**)     .62 (**)   -
   Media Change
Nostalgia Proneness
   Nostalgia            .20 (**)       .24 (**)    -.03        -.09 (*)
Media Nostalgia
   Media Nostalgia      .55 (**)       .50 (**)    -.36 (**)   -.41 (**)
   Media Nostalgia      .25 (**)       .20 (**)    -.17 (**)   -.21 (**)
   C ontent

Variables                  8          9

Coping Strategies
Stressed by
   Media Change
   Gerenal Stress
   by Media Change
   Negative Attitudes
   Media Change
   Negative Emotions
   Media Change
Comfortable with
Media Change
   Positive Attitudes
   Media Change
   Positive Emotions
   Media Change
Nostalgia Proneness
   Nostalgia            -
Media Nostalgia
   Media Nostalgia      .32 (**)     -
   Media Nostalgia      .23 (**)     .38 (**)
   C ontent

(*) p .05 (**) p .01.
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Article Type:Report
Date:Feb 1, 2017
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