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Research Says Brain Scans Can See the ‘Christmas Spirit’

by Kate Ferguson on December 24, 2015
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Some researchers set out to see if they could spot a place in the brain where people feel the “Christmas spirit”, and they confirmed that they can. (Although they don’t know why exactly that is.)

A team of researchers in Denmark set out to find the Christmas spirit, and started by dividing their participants into two different groups. One group was a group that celebrated Christmas with strong traditions and the other group was people who did not. Some of the people in the group who did not celebrate Christmas included people of Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi and Turkish descent. They excluded people who had strong feelings about Christmas but didn’t celebrate it, as well as people who did but had negative feelings about it for whatever reason.

Next the researchers hooked the participants up to brain imaging machines and showed them series of photos, some of which were Christmas related and some of which were not. One example was showing them normal streets and then streets that were decorated with Christmas lights.

While looking at the brain scans the researchers which portions of the brain lit up while the participants were looking at the photos related to Christmas. They found that the people who celebrate Christmas showed brain activity in areas that the other group did not. These areas were the areas of the brain that normally have to do with the sense of touch and interpreting body language.

The researchers joked that perhaps this finding would help them be able to replicate the Christmas spirit someday for people who did not feel it.

Bryan Haddock, a physicist at Rigshospitalet, a hospital affiliated with Copenhagen University where the study took place spoke out about the implications.

“We are currently preparing a patent application on a Santa’s hat that you can buy for family members with symptoms. When they start grumbling at Christmas dinner, with the touch of a button you can give them electric stimulation right in the Christmas spirit centres.”

Of course they’re poking a bit of fun at their research, and they also admitted that the research not mean so much at all. One obvious possibility was that the brains were responding to the colorful lights or colors in the photos and not actually the Christmas aspect of it at all. Additionally, there might be other cultural differences that came into play besides the holiday which are unclear at this point.

That being said, the researchers didn’t want to spoil the fun findings with all that seriousness. They 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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