Recency Bias and Nostalgia: Dualities Can Coexist

Frenemies from the dawn of mankind. Explore the notions of recency bias and nostalgia.

Recency bias and nostalgia are psychological phenomena interrelated with memory and its complicated functioning. While operating differently, they are both related to remembrance. One makes us forget the alluring quality of a certain thing that we as a society used to adore, and the other makes us remember in a haze through pink-hued glasses that somehow fit our faces perfectly.

To forget is human. Roughly 50 percent of the new information is forgotten within the first hour of learning it. Within the first day of acquiring the information, almost 70 percent is gone. This percentage has a linear increase with the time passed upon first learning the information, given that revision is not present.

In pop culture, this phenomenon manifests itself as the masses not being as impressed by a certain movie, book, or song after some time after it is published, despite initially being influenced by it. As time passes, the popularity of the thing or the rate at which it is liked decreases since the brain remembers only the bits and pieces of what is left behind.

Recency bias, then, could be understood as a functioning limb of herd psychology, an appendage. Think of superhero movies that used to be in high demand. People were fanning over the characters and story arcs as the movies continued to be released. While they were highly appreciated and received immense attention, they are now being criticized as surface-level and humdrum. Now that superhero movies have lost their hype, more and more people feel less suppressed to reveal their true feelings about them since there will be no significant backlash because people do not remember most of the movies. It is highly likely that most ex-fans will agree with the negative critiques, as such films’ frantic publicity is over. This is also because the masses are now interested in some other things, such as movies like Barbie or Oppenheimer because they are marketed brilliantly and people have a tendency to fall for shiny objects. This, however, will not be enough to save these shiny new items from their destiny of resembling their counterparts.

It is a prerequisite of our time that we all suffer from the shiny object syndrome. And it is also inevitable to be affected as such through our exhausting and addictive doomscrolling. As trends go by, we neglect our individuality as we commit adultery with popular culture, abandoning our subjective individual experience because of the gilded needle of the innate need for approval and belonging that pricks through our skin and is damned with our undying performance of what a person is.

Our ideas tend to be influenced by what is recent or trendy. We, therefore, dress the same, listen to the same music, talk the same, and live the same. Sometime later, everybody hates those shoes that used to be on everyone’s feet. Even the wearers themselves! This is recency bias. When the thing is closer to our now, or when it is more recent, we tend to love it. As our ’now’ furthers away from the thing or from the time it was trendy, our perception is de-influenced, or its gorilla grip on our perception is softer. So, the 'shiny thing' is demystified.

While nostalgia (and the profit-crazy market) result in decades-old great movies being rebooted as live-action and released to the public eye, such as The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Jumanji, and many more, we see that the new adaptations are rarely as good as the original ones. This is not because they are bad movies but because nostalgia is a master illusionist. I do not reject the fact that although the story is the same in the rebooted versions, the way it is presented is different thanks to new technology, which could be another appealing element.

However, what makes these movies worthy and alluring is that they used to be comfort items for so many of us, which, in turn, provides a sense of nostalgia. Still, this nostalgic tendency does not necessarily denote that the new thing will be as touching as it used to be. Our parents and grandparents always chant how things used to be better in the past. While this might be true for some things, like the overall degree of heat in our climate, it is not true for so many other things that the statement ‘’things used to be better’’ befalls feeble. We are driven by nostalgia because the past is remembered differently from what it actually was. A fraction of a happy memory triggers the brain into thinking it was as such all the time when, in reality, it was not.

It is remarkable how the same brain chooses to redeem some memories while trivializing others. The decision-making element in the possible redemption of the one that is being reminisced about is produced through time. Therefore, time is the defining variable in the equation of the past. Nostalgia is a yearning sensation that is being felt at the moment for the past, making the past look bejewelled and dolled up. This brings about the longing sentimentality over the not-so-great past. Recency bias, on the other hand, is being diverted from the false illusion of thing that belongs to the past. The memory becomes less occupied with the previously adored and is able to see things for what they are. After some time, it acknowledges the thing in its demystified state.

The two complex phenomena lay bare that the human brain and its operation are fascinating concepts to ponder. We get to pick and choose the thing of the past that we remember and categorize it as worthy. The cognitive recency bias is an influence and de-influence of the mass movement, while nostalgia is mainly an individual trigger that concludes in romantic yearning.