Just in time for the holidays, a team of researchers affiliated with Copenhagen University has pinpointed the Christmas spirit in the human brain. A phenomenon that has been widespread for centuries, the Christmas spirit is commonly associated with feelings of joy, nostalgia and promises of good food and gifts. Despite the joy of many, the authors of the study claim that "millions of people are prone to displaying Christmas spirit deficiencies," which they call 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 said in a press release, claiming that it will help in the "understanding of the brain's role in festive cultural traditions."
The team of researchers conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which measure the changes in blood oxygenation and flow in response to specific kinds of neural activity. Using this technique on 20 participants, they mapped out the parts of the brain involved in the Christmas spirit.
The study examined 10 people who celebrate Christmas and 10 from the same area who do not celebrate Christmas. Each subject was scanned while they viewed 84 images with video goggles - each image was shown for two seconds and for every six consecutive Christmas images, six non-holiday pictures were shown.
The results showed that there are five areas associated with the Christmas spirit - the left primary motor and premotor cortex, right inferior and superior parietal lobule, and bilateral primary somatosensory cortex. These areas are associated with somatic senses, spirituality and facial emotion recognition.
"Although merry and intriguing, these findings should be interpreted with caution," the team said. "Something as magical and complex as the Christmas spirit cannot be fully explained by, or limited to, the mapped brain activity alone."
The findings were published in the Dec. 16 issue of The British Medical Journal.