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Scientists Can See ‘Christmas Spirit’ in Your Brain

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If you feel like there’s a unique feeling to the Christmas spirit you certainly aren’t alone. Some researchers in Denmark actually did a study to find out if they could see this feeling in the brain, and they concluded that they could. That’s right, these neuroscientists are saying that there’s a Christmas spirit right in your brain.

The study was done at the University of Copenhagen and did fMRI’s on 20 participants. Ten of the participants were people who celebrated Christmas and ten were not. The researchers did brain scans of the participants while they showed them a variety of images. Some of the images were directly Christmas related, and some of them were similar but not specific to the holiday.

The people who celebrated Christmas had different reactions in their brain when they were looking at Christmas related images compared to the people who didn’t or the non Christmas specific images. This increase in brain activity showed in the sensorimotor cortex, the premotor and primary motor cortex, and the parietal lobule, which they dubbed a “Christmas spirit network” in the brain. Here’s what to know about those areas of the brain:

“Parietal lobules have been shown in earlier fMRI studies to play a determining role in self transcendence, the personality trait regarding predisposition to spirituality. Furthermore, the frontal premotor cortex is important for experiencing emotions shared with other individuals…recall of joyful emotions and pleasant ingestive behaviour shared with loved ones would be likely to elicit activation here. There is growing evidence that the somatosensory cortex plays an important role in recognition of facial emotion and retrieving social relevant information from faces. Collectively, these cortical areas possibly constitute the neuronal correlate of the Christmas spirit in the human brain.”

Of course these results aren’t entirely conclusive, partly because they only used 20 people to test out the theory. Also, fMRI machines are not always accurate. There was actually a circumstance where one showed brain activity in a dead fish, so that would seem pretty unlikely. Additionally, the colors in the Christmas photos included a lot of green and red, so it is possible that this neural pathway has something to do with how certain people’s brains read certain colors.

And then of course the same areas of the brain might light up when people are excited about other holidays as well, which would make it not a Christmas specific pathway, but maybe just an exciting event one. (Although for many people Christmas is pretty high up on the list as far as holidays full of cheer.) More research could tell. Either way, it’s pretty cute news for anyone who likes to believe in the Christmas spirit.

Despite there being a lot of inconclusiveness in the study, the researchers said:

“Bringing these issues up, however, really dampened the festive mood. Therefore we, in the best interest of the readers of course, decided not to ruin the good Christmas cheer for everyone by letting this influence our interpretation of the study.”

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About Kate Ferguson Kate Fergus is a Los Angeles local and freelance writer for a variety of blogs and online magazines. When she's not writing, the UC Davis graduate is focused on pursuits of the entertainment industry, spin class, and hot sauce.

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