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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Preliminary EASP Seedcorn Grant Report by Anouk Smeekes

07.08.2019, by Tina Keil in grant report

Utrecht University, The Netherlands; Project: Collective nostalgia and social categorization: A neuroscience perspective

Anouk Smeekes
Anouk Smeekes

Global surveys show that collective nostalgia thrives across the world: in most countries more than 50% of the population would like their country to be the way it used to be (Ipsos Mori, 2016). What is more, research demonstrates that, in an attempt to mobilize voters against immigration, leaders of populist parties typically harness or even evoke such collective nostalgia sentiments (Mols & Jetten, 2014).

While psychologists have extensively studied personal nostalgia (for a review, see Sedikides, Wildschut, Routledge, Arndt, Hepper, & Zhou, 2015), researchers (including the grant recipient) have only recently started to examine collective nostalgia and its implications for group processes and intergroup relations (Smeekes, 2015; Smeekes, Verkuyten, & Martinovic, 2015; Wildschut, Bruder, Robertson, Van Tilburg, & Sedikides, 2014). The social identity perspective (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987) and intergroup emotions theory (IET; Mackie, Devos, & Smith, 2000) help to explain the difference between personal and collective nostalgia. According to these perspectives, when group membership becomes part of the psychological self, people can experience emotions on the basis of their social identity. This means that, next to feeling nostalgic for their unique individual past (personal nostalgia), people can also feel nostalgic for periods and events that concern their shared past with fellow group members.

Recent empirical work (including that of the grant recipient) shows that only collective (and not personal) nostalgia predicts group processes and intergroup relations (Smeekes, 2015; Smeekes et al., 2015; Wildschut et al., 2014). Specifically, these studies demonstrate that collective nostalgia causes in-group strengthening attitudes and behaviours, such as protecting the in-group (Wildschut et al., 2014; Smeekes, 2015), but can also result in exclusionary attitudes towards immigrant out-groups when this collective nostalgia is based on one’s national identity (i.e., Smeekes et al., 2015).

The theoretical explanation for these findings offered in my earlier work is that collective nostalgia helps group members to maintain continuity of their social identity through processes of social categorization that highlight similarities between in-group members that were part of this shared past (‘old-timers’) and emphasizes differences between ‘old-timers’ and those who are not part of this past (‘newcomers’) (for a review see Smeekes & Verkuyten, 2015). While my previous work presents empirical support for this proposition, it was based on explicit (and hence obtrusive) self-report measures. It remained therefore unclear whether collective nostalgia triggers more automatic and implicit forms of social categorization.

I therefore started a collaborative project with Professor Belle Derks at Utrecht University, who has extensive experience with neuroscientific studies in the field of Social Psychology (see e.g., Derks, Scheepers, & Ellemers, 2013). In our study we tested whether collective nostalgia results in more automatic forms of social categorization by making use of event-related brain potentials (ERPs). ERPs are distilled from continuous electroencephalography (EEG) measures of brain activity during task performance. ERPs can indicate differential attention to in-group and out-group faces within the first 300ms of social perception (see Ito & Bartholow, 2009) and this indicator of social categorization has been shown to predict later cognitive processes such as implicit intergroup bias (Derks, Stedehouder, & Ito, 2015; Dickter & Bartholow, 2007).

The study’s central question is: Does collective nostalgia trigger automatic and implicit forms of social categorization, more specifically the degree to which people distinguish between ingroup and outgroup faces in the early stages of information processing?

In our study, we have used the research paradigm developed in Derks et al. (2015) (using event-related brain potentials (ERPs)) and performed a between-subjects experiment in which national nostalgia was manipulated (vs. a control condition).

Progress report

After receiving the Seedcorn grant, we first requested ethical approval from Utrecht University to carry out this study. We therefore submitted an application to the Faculty Ethics Review Board, who approved the study in February 2018.

We subsequently designed & programmed the study in the spring of 2018 and collected the data in the EEG lab in the period between September – December 2018, with the help of a student assistant and interns. We had an unfortunate delay in the data collection (which was planned to start in April 2018), because there were problems with the availability of the EEG lab at Utrecht University and we could not use it until September 2018. Student assistants and interns were trained and supervised by an experienced PhD student to be able to conduct EEGs. Before we started testing, we preregistered our study at

We invited native Dutch people to our lab using online advertising and through SONA (Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Participation System), where UU psychology students can sign up for participation in exchange for money or credits. We tested 70 participants in total. Each participant was tested individually and each session lasted about 45 minutes.

Upon arrival in the lab, the participant was placed behind a desk with a computer screen. After receiving their informed consent, and answering questions they might have, the EEG equipment was applied and instructions were provided. Subsequently, they completed the first part of the online questionnaire with embedded experimental manipulations. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions (national nostalgia vs. control) . In the national nostalgia condition, participants were asked to recall and think about things from the Dutch past that make them feel nostalgic. In the control condition, participants were asked to recall and think about an event that concerned the Netherlands and made the news last year. This control condition allows us to differentiate the effect of national nostalgia from a more general reflection on the national past and from the mere salience of national identity. This manipulation of national nostalgia has been successfully used in my earlier work (see e.g., Smeekes et al., 2015).

After this part, participants performed a sequential priming task to assess social categorization while their EEG was measured and recorded. This priming task has been used in previous studies (for an overview see Derks et al., 2015). In this task positive and negative words were primed with pictures of Dutch men (in-group targets) or Moroccan men (out-group targets; pre-piloted stimuli taken from the Radboud Faces Database) and participants were asked to categorize the words as good/bad (but not the pictures). This enabled us the measure spontaneous rather than forced social categorization with the ERP responses to the picture of the faces.

After this task participants completed the last part of the online questionnaire, in which we assessed self-reported in-group favouritism and out-group hostility. After this final task the EEG electrodes were removed, participants were thanked, debriefed and rewarded for participation.

Data are stored but still have to be analyzed, as my maternity leave started at the end of the data collection period and just ended. We will start with the analysis in September 2019, when the academic year at Utrecht University begins. Hopefully, we will have some preliminary results by the end of the Fall. We are thankful for the opportunity afforded by the EASP Seedcorn Grant to conduct this research project.


  • Derks, B., Scheepers, D., & Ellemers, N. (Eds.). (2013). Neuroscience of prejudice and intergroup relations. New York: Psychology Press.
  • Derks, B., Stedehouder, J., & Ito, T.A. (2015). Social identity modifies face perception: An ERP study of social categorization. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, 672-679.
  • Dickter, C. L., & Bartholow, B. D. (2007). Racial ingroup and outgroup attention biases revealed by event-related brain potentials. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2, 189–198.
  • Ipsos Mori. (2016). Ipsos Global Trends Survey. Retrieved August 10, 2017, from
  • Ito, T. A., & Bartholow, B. D. (2009). The neural correlates of race. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13, 524–531.
  • Mackie, D. M., Devos, T., & Smith, E. R. (2000). Intergroup emotions: Explaining offensive action tendencies in an intergroup context. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 602–610.
  • Mols, F., & Jetten, J. (2014). No guts, no glory: How framing the collective past paves the way for anti-immigrant sentiments. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 43, 74-86.
  • Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Routledge, C., Arndt, J., Hepper, E. G., & Zhou, X. (2015). Chapter five - To nostalgize: Mixing memory with affect and desire. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 51, 189-273.
  • Smeekes, A. (2015). National nostalgia: a group-level emotion that benefits the in-group but hampers intergroup relations. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 49, 54–67.
  • Smeekes, A., & Verkuyten, M. (2015). The presence of the past: Identity continuity and group dynamics. European Review of Social Psychology, 26, 162-202.
  • Smeekes, A., Verkuyten, M., & Martinovic, B. (2015). Longing for the country’s good old days: National nostalgia, autochthony beliefs, and opposition to Muslim expressive rights. British Journal of Social Psychology, 54, 561-580.
  • Tajfel, H. & Turner, J.C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W.G. Austin, & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–48). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. 
  • Turner, J.C., Hogg, M.A., Oakes, P.J., Reicher, S.D., & Wetherell, M.S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Wildschut, T., Bruder, M., Robertson, S., Van Tilburg, W., & Sedikides, C. (2014). Collective nostalgia: A group-level emotion that confers unique benefits on the group. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, 844-863.