Is Christmas Spirit in Your Brain?
If people think you’re too much of a Grinch during the holidays, you can blame it on your brain, according to research at the University of Copenhagen.
Believe it or not, researchers there say they have identified a sort of Christmas spirit network in the brain – an area that they believe may play a role in the feelings of joy and nostalgia many feel during the holiday season.
The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 20 adults, with the goal of determining whether Christmas spirit could be isolated in specific cerebral regions.
Study participants wore video goggles and viewed 84 images. They were shown six consecutive images with a Christmas theme for two seconds each, before being shown six everyday images. Then each participant completed a questionnaire detailing their Christmas traditions, how they felt about Christmas and their ethnicity.
They were categorized into one of two groups: the Christmas group (who reported celebrating Christmas and had positive feelings toward the festive season), and the non-Christmas group (who did not celebrate Christmas and had neutral feelings toward the festive season).
Comparing the brain scans, the team found that those in the Christmas group demonstrated greater activity in five brain areas in response to Christmas-themed images, including the left primary motor and premotor cortex, right inferior and superior parietal lobule, and bilateral primary somatosensory cortex.
These areas have been linked to spirituality and recognition of facial emotions. For example, the left and right parietal lobules have been associated with self-transcendence – representing predisposition to spirituality.
The study authors wrote: “The frontal premotor cortex is important for experiencing emotions shared with other individuals by mirroring or copying their body state and premotor cortical mirror neurons even respond to observation of ingestive mouth actions. Recall of joyful emotions and pleasant ingestive behavior shared with loved ones would be likely to elicit activation here.”
The researchers stressed, however, that their findings should be interpreted with caution, noting that “something as magical and complex as the Christmas spirit cannot be fully explained by, or limited to, the mapped brain activity alone.”
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