Your brain reveals whether you have the ‘Christmas spirit’

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Christmas spirit

A Danish research team has located the ‘Christmas spirit’ regions of our brain, associated with spirituality and sharing emotions, which are activated in those who follow Christmas traditions …

A Danish research team has located the ‘Christmas spirit’ in our brain. The areas of the brain associated with spirituality and sharing emotions are activated in those who follow Christmas traditions …

Whether we are open to the Christmas spirit depends on our brain, reports a Danish study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Millions of people are insensitive to the magic of Christmas, the nostalgic feelings, the pleasant smells, the good food, the human warmth and solidarity, combined with the traditional festivities, according to the results of this new study. The scientists describe this phenomenon as the “bah humbug” syndrome.

A research team at the Danish hospital Rigshospitalet, which is affiliated to the University of Copenhagen, tried to locate “the spirt of Christmas” in the brain by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The scientists describe this phenomenon as the “bah humbug” syndrome.

The scanner shows which parts of the brain are activated by which mental processes

The study involved 20 people in good health living in the same geographical region. Half of them were used to celebrating Christmas, and the other half did not follow Christmas traditions.

Each participant had a functional MRI scan after having viewed a series of images with Christmas themes interspersed with neutral images. After having been scanned, all the participants filled in a questionnaire about their Christmas traditions, their associations with this time of year, and their ethnicity.

The MRI results showed that five separate parts of the brain were activated to a significant degree in the people who usually celebrate Christmas. These regions are associated with spirituality, the recognition of facial emotion, somatic senses and many other functions.

These regions of the brain are the sensory motor cortex, the premotor and primary motor cortex, and the parietal lobules (inferior and superior).

Self-transcendence

As one example, the researchers noted the activation of the left and right parietal lobules which have been shown in previous studies to play a determining role in self-transcendence, the personality trait connected with a predisposition to spirituality.

A phenomenon as magical and complex as Christmas spirit cannot be fully explained.

Moreover, the frontal premotor cortex is important for experiencing emotions shared with others by mirroring or copying their body state.

The researchers believe that more in-depth research is required to understand the spirit of Christmas and to identify other circuits in the brain which come into play during other festivals such as Easter, Hanukah, Eid and Diwali.

The study’s authors said that although these findings were fascinating they should be viewed with caution, and that a phenomenon as magical and complex as the Christmas spirit cannot be fully explained.

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