Doctoral Student Researches the Effects of Nostalgia on Health Communication

Posted on: July 19, 2017

It’s that feeling you get when you think about high school football games in your hometown, or how great the college years were. It’s thinking back to holidays surrounded by family and home-cooked meals. It’s that sentimental yearning for the joy experienced in another place or time. It’s nostalgia.Hussain Feature Old Site

This is the emotion that doctoral student Syed Ali Hussain is studying in the School of Journalism. His research focuses on understanding the art of persuasion and social influence in the context of designing health communication campaigns.

“Nostalgia is experienced by people of all ages, culture and gender as a strong emotional appeal,” said Hussain. “It has been used extensively in the advertising industry to sell products and services. I wondered if it could also be used to promote healthy behaviors and attitudes.”

Hussain said that nostalgia is most common when people are distressed or or feel uncertainty. They can’t help but think of the “good old days when things were better.”

This intensified level of nostalgia during difficult times in life is what led Hussain to research its effects on depression. He is looking to persuade people to move from unhealthy to healthy behaviors. In this case, he wants to persuade individuals to go from keeping depression to themselves to seeking professional help.

Nostalgia Video Leads to Empathy and Positivity

As part of a study supervised by ComArtSci assistant professor Dr. Saleem Alhabash, Hussain put together a video in an effort to convince individuals with depression to seek help at MSU’s counseling center. To induce nostalgia, the video used images and music to evoke the viewers’ childhood memories. But as the video moves into the teenage and college years, there is a significant change; the thoughts and emotions that come with depression become more and more present. The video ends with a message to seek counseling when in distress.

“The video was made after a lot of research because we don’t want anything to backfire or trigger something harmful [for viewers],” said Hussain. “The script was highly authenticated and based on interviews that I’ve done with people with depression and from blogs [about] depression.”

In the study, a control group watched a non-nostalgic video, while a second group watched the video Hussain had created. He then measured change in their emotions, attitude and level of intention to seek help. He found that the individuals that watched the nostalgic video had significantly higher feelings of nostalgia and that the video evoked a lot of positive emotions. This positivity led to a more positive attitude toward the counseling center, which in turn led to increased behavioral intention to seek professional help.

During this study, participants were also asked to write down their thoughts about the video after the viewing. Results showed that individuals who watched the nostalgic video wrote longer, more detailed and engaging responses than those in the control group. He also found that the individuals who watched the nostalgic video that had no depression were also more understanding toward those who do have depression.

“People without depression may not realize how it feels to be depressed. Many people give advice like “Why don’t you go for a walk,” or “Just snap out of it,”” said Hussain. “But in our study, we found that individuals without depression expressed a more positive and empathetic attitude towards people who do have depression, which is an important step towards reducing stigma.”

Images of Depression

Before using the nostalgic video as a research tool, Hussain conducted another study on visual narratives of depression under the supervision of Lucinda Davenport, a professor and the director of the J-School. In other words, he studied how people with depression express their emotions and feelings through images and photographs. During the study, he showed participants various depression-related images and asked them: “What do you see in this image? Tell me a story about it. Help me understand this image, give me an example.”

“All of the images were from blogs [about] depression on Tumblr, in which people have expressed their emotion through photographs and images, and less words,” said Hussain. “This is important because depression is an illness which is often hard to put into words alone.”

PowerPoint PresentationHussain said that the participants with moderately severe depression had stories and anecdotes to tell him about what each image meant to them. In this image, individuals picked up on the difference between the lighter and darker legs. They explained that the two legs in the forefront are like the lives that everyone else sees or what is shown on the surface, while the other legs are synonymous with the lives that they are truly living, being constantly worried about a million little things.

"In this research, I found that images are a good medium to use in a counseling session,” said Hussain. “The images help in creating rapport with the participants and sharing the narratives of depression with much ease.”

During this study, Hussain noticed that the participants also started to feel better after being given the opportunity to talk and ventilate their feelings. He was surprised to find just how much the individuals spoke. Sometimes he had to schedule additional sessions to complete the interview and finish discussing all of the images.

Global Impact

Before coming to the U.S., Hussain was working on behavior-changing communication projects with communities in his home country of Pakistan.

“I had a lot of experience working in villages on mother and child health during natural disasters,” said Hussain. “At one point I realized a need for more evidence-based interventions so I thought I would come to the U.S. for higher studies.”

Hussain received a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to come to the U.S. to earn his master’s. After completing that degree, he continued toward a Ph.D. Now that he’s going into his final year, Hussain plans to go back to Pakistan.

“I will go back and continue the research that I have learned in the U.S.,” said Hussain. “Over these years, I have realized that the kind of social issues we are facing need a multidisciplinary team of people to solve them. So I plan to go back to Pakistan and start building one.”

By Kaitlin Dudlets

Share via these networks:

Online strategic communication degree empowers working professionals

Pretty woman is working in a café

Organizations seek out the abilities. Professionals strive for the knowledge and skills. And starting Spring 2017, the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences will welcome its first class into a new online master’s program, convenient for working professionals, on strategic communications.

The Master of Arts in Strategic Communication represents the first time the College has offered a degree program 100 percent online. The program responds to the needs of professionals through its flexible delivery as well as through content that addresses the challenges of a 21st century communication environment.

"Given the rapidly changing communication ecosystem, mid-career professionals are eager for training to update their skills," says Prabu David, Dean of the College of ComArtSci. "Currently, communication professionals, including our own alumni, do not have rich, in-state options to learn new media techniques. This new online M.A. in strategic communication fills that gap."

Students in the nine-course, 30-credit program will examine how to leverage today's evolving media and digital mix into an integrated marketing and communications strategy for businesses, start-ups, non-profits or government agencies. Expert faculty will handle all aspects of course content and bring expertise in corporate messaging, news and information, fundamental communication processes, audience research and data analytics, and new technologies. Students will also complete a service-learning project that enables them to apply their newly acquired expertise within a community setting.

"The College of ComArtSci has long-standing leadership in an integrated theory-to-practice orientation toward effective communication strategy and tactics," says John Sherry, associate dean of for graduate studies in ComArtSci. "There is no other college in the world with such broad and deep coverage of these issues."

Students can complete courses and requirements from anywhere, anytime and at their own pace in one to three years. The program is ideally suited for working professionals with three to five years of experience in communications as well as for business and communication entrepreneurs. Students will also have opportunity to collaborate with other online learners, further enhancing their professional network.

"The ability for individuals to be located anywhere and enroll in this master's program is a distinct advantage," says ComArtSci Alum April M. Clobes, president and CEO of the MSU Federal Credit Union. "Being able to complete the program while working full-time is also essential for long-term success. MSU's high rankings in the field of communications along with excellent faculty, will make this a highly sought after degree."

The program is currently accepting applications and no GRE is required. To learn more about MSU's new online master's degree program in strategic communication through the College of ComArtSci, visit or contact the program director at

Share via these networks:

Supporting Graduate Research Key to CAS Experience

Posted on: February 18, 2014

Kami SilkGuest blog by Kami Silk, Ph.D., Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Director of Master's for Health and Risk Communication and Professor, Department of Communication

Enough of the snow already? Great, because I want to share with you how our college is increasing funding opportunities for graduate research.

As any graduate student who aspires to be a successful researcher will tell you, it's challenging to identify a topic that excites and motivates them, will add significant new knowledge to their field, and that others will want to financially support. The growing competition for research dollars can be intimidating for graduate students who are still honing their skills and have yet to establish a solid track record. And yet, they can only establish themselves as a scholar if they have successfully conducted, presented and published a substantial body of research.

The College of Communication Arts and Sciences was one of the first institutions of its kind to formally develop a major communication research emphasis and continues to be recognized internationally for the outstanding research conducted by our faculty, as well as our graduates.

This past November alone, more than 70 faculty and graduate students were selected to present at the National Communication Association 99th Annual Convention in Washington, D.C. That's an impressive number and reflects how our college invests in both our faculty and graduate students.

We place a high priority on making sure our graduates have the opportunity to be mentored by and work with some of the most preeminent communication researchers in the world. We also strive to provide opportunities for research experience early on and help graduate students build a strong network with peers and accomplished scholars so they will be well positioned upon earning their degree(s).

Exemplifying this commitment, I am pleased to announce the recipients of our newest research fellowships, which are generously funded through the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation Research Fund for Health and Risk Communication. This fund provides resources for graduate students to engage in hands-on research, apply theoretical constructs to real-world health practices, and share results and impacts from their projects with their community partners. Priority is placed on projects to be implemented in Michigan, and in mid-Michigan specifically. The Strosacker Foundation funded a $500,000 endowment that will support five $5,000 fellowships awards annually.

Please join me in congratulating our first Strosacker fellowship recipients:


  • Tom Day, a second-year Media and Information Studies master's student with a concentration in human computer interaction in the Media and Informationdepartment, completed the Serious Games Certification in his first year as a graduate student. Day also has a dual bachelor's degree in telecommunications and psychology from MSU. He is conducting a longitudinal study of how individuals interact in competitive and cooperative settings while being fully immersed in a video game.
  • Guanxiong Huang and Kang Li are both Media and Information Studies Ph.D. students in the Advertising + Public Relations department. Huang is a fourth-year doctoral student with a master's degree in communication and a bachelor's degree in journalism. Li is a third-year doctoral student with a master's degree in digital art. For her bachelor's degree, her major was in animation. Their research project focuses on how to communicate the potential risks of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a natural gas drilling practice, as a threat to the Great Lakes. Their study is aimed at mobilizing Michigan residents to participate in an online petition. Specifically, their study will look at how gain-loss message frames and social identity influence people's risk perceptions and hence affect their collective action.
  • Ali Hussain, a first-year Media and Information Studies doctoral student in the School of Journalism, also has a master's degree in Health and Risk Communication from CAS. He is studying the development and testing of nostalgic appeals for smoking prevention. The project will result in the production of anti-smoking PSAs based on a nostalgic theme.
  • Sarah Sheff, a first-year master's degree student in Health and Risk Communication completed her B.A. in Communication last year in the Department of Communication. Her research project is identifying existing barriers to physical activity, such as access and cost, as a first step towards preventing Type 2 diabetes in rural mid-Michigan.
  • Daniel Totzkay, a first-year master's student in Health and Risk Communication completed his B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science with a minor in Women's and Gender Studies, is studying the use of motivational messages to increase physical activity through ballroom and Latin dance classes among a sedentary workforce.

We are very grateful to the Strosacker Foundation for recognizing the important role communication research plays in better understanding and improving human health and the environment, and the need to cultivate an up-and-coming corps of researchers committed to meeting the growing need for health and risk communication research.

Another way CAS encourages graduate-level research is through our Summer Research Excellence Fellowships. We are now in the process of accepting applications for this summer with a due date of March 17. These competitive fellowships will be awarded to CAS graduate students who have demonstrated potential for research and creative excellence in their academic field. Doctoral students can receive awards up to $6,000 and master's level students can receive up to $3,500, dependent upon the pool of funds available.

Additionally, Michigan State University offers University Distinguished Fellowships and Enrichment Fellowships to outstanding students who plan to enroll in a doctoral or master of fine arts program. The goal of these fellowships is to foster an intellectually vital and diverse educational community that will prepare graduate students to assume their professional roles in a diverse society.

If you are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and would like to know more about these fellowship opportunities, I encourage you to explore "Graduate Programs" on the CAS website and contact me if you have questions.

Share via these networks: