The Neurotracker Team

Where in Your Brain is Christmas Spirit?

December 20, 2018

Some people get really into the holiday spirit. It’s not even December, and they’ve already started their holiday shopping, baking festive cookies and listening to Christmas songs. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are others who seem to hate everything about Christmas. You know, the people who “bah humbug” their way all through the festive season.

So, why do some people get more into the Christmas spirit than others? It turns out, that certain areas of the brain have a measurably different activity in people who enjoy Christmas versus those who do not.

Localizing Christmas Spirit

A Danish study was conducted to detect and localize the Christmas spirit in the human brain. Prior to this experiment, the cerebral location and mechanisms of the Christmas spirit were a mystery. The participants included equal groups of people who routinely celebrate Christmas and those who do not.

In the study, the participants were presented stimuli, in the form of neutral images and those with a Christmas theme, while their brains were scanned with an MRI. Note that no mulled wine or fruitcake was consumed prior to imaging.

Activation of a “Christmas Network”

Christmas celebrators had more activation in the parietal lobules, premotor cortex and somatosensory cortex. The parietal lobules are known to be related to self-transcendence, which plays a major role in spirituality. It basically enables us to experience a connection or sense of harmony with the world around us.

The premotor cortex becomes active in Christmas-happy people, most likely due to the recall of joyful emotions, such as eating treats with loved ones at Christmastime. Lastly, the somatosensory cortex is thought to be active when people recognize emotions in facial expressions.

Activation during Festive Events

Although these areas could be dubbed a “functional Christmas network,” it wouldn’t be too surprising if similar activity is observed during other festivities or holidays. For instance, the study design didn’t distinguish whether the observed activation was Christmas-specific or the result of any combination of joyful, festive, or nostalgic emotions in general.

A person who receives socks as their Christmas present each year, might have a different response in brain activity, than someone who receives an attractive present each year. Similarly, responses to Christmas may change from childhood, when the holiday itself is more magical, to adulthood, when it can become stressful for gift purchasers.

Unfortunately, there is currently no magical Santa hat that can unwittingly zap the Christmas-deficient areas of the brain in people with “bah humbug” syndrome. So, if you have Scrooge-like family members, you’ll have to put up with their grumbling at Christmas dinner for at least another year.

Interested to learn more about neuroscience? Check out this blog.

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