It turns out there actually is a difference between the brains of people who feel all warm and fuzzy inside during the Christmas season and those who inwardly want to scream every time they’re subjected to “Santa Baby.”
A team of researchers from the Danish hospital Rigshospitalet has discovered what it’s calling a “Christmas spirit network” in the brain.
“Throughout the world, we estimate that millions of people are prone to displaying Christmas spirit deficiencies after many years of celebrating Christmas,” say the paper’s authors in their tongue-in-cheek study. “We refer to this as the ‘bah humbug’ syndrome. Accurate localisation of the Christmas spirit is a paramount first step in being able to help this group of patients.”
The authors add that the Christmas spirit has long “eluded” the scientific community, “though well known as a pleasant feeling, its cerebral location and mechanisms are still a mystery.”
Steps closer to curing “bah humbug” syndrome
The scientists have managed to demystify Christmas cheer somewhat by localizing it in the brain. They pulled this off by conducting a series of tests using functional magnetic resonance imaging on the brains of 20 participants — 10 who celebrate Christmas and 10 without Christmas traditions. The researchers showed subjects different imagery, such as a plate full of Christmas-themed sweets juxtaposed with a plate of regular, boring old food with no Christmassy fixings.
They found unique brain activity among the group that celebrated Christmas: “There is a cerebral response when people view Christmas images, and there are differences in this response between people who celebrate Christmas compared with those with no Christmas traditions.”
Apparently a healthy dose of our Christmas cheer is linked to our desire to stuff our faces with delicious foods. Subjects’ premotor cortical mirror neurons responded “to observation of ingestive mouth actions.” Translation: When looking at images that reminded us of chowing down on Christmas food, our brains began to anticipate the feasting.
What’s the actual point of this study?
They point out that there are still some unknown variables and potential factors that could reduce the Christmas spirit network’s activity in one’s brain, like ugly sweaters nobody wants yet somehow people insist on buying said ugly sweaters and presenting them as “gifts.”
“Subgroups subjected to receipt of tacky jumpers as their Christmas present might also have different responses in brain activity from those of subgroups who tend to receive more attractive gifts,” report the scientists.
There was little discussion about the real-world applications of such a study, which appears to have been conducted simply for the sheer entertainment value of the researchers themselves, who reported that they later celebrated their results “at a subsequent Christmas party.”
More: How to keep your Christmas tree fresh and fragrant through the holidays