Researchers reveal Christmas spirit in the brain

New MRI scans show exactly where the Christmas spirit is located in the brain. The new results from a group of researchers at Rigshospitalet were published in the Christmas issue of the prestigious British Medical Journal. 

People who are used to celebrating Christmas react with a specific pattern of brain activity when they see Christmas-related pictures. This pattern is not activated in people who do not celebrate Christmas. Such was the result of a study of the brain activity with an MRI scanner conducted by a group of researchers linked to the Danish Headache Centre and the Department of Physiology, Nuclear Medicine & PET at Rigshospitalet. 

The new data on the exact location of the Christmas spirit have just been published in the Christmas issue of the international British Medical Journal. 

“We scanned two groups of clinical trial subjects. One half celebrated Christmas, and the other half did not. Both groups were shown a series of Christmas-related pictures, such as a street with Christmas decorations or a picture of Christmas biscuits. The group who celebrated Christmas demonstrated clear activity in the areas of the brain normally associated with spirituality, sensation and facial recognition. This reaction was not triggered in the trial subjects who did not celebrate Christmas," said Anders Hougaard, PhD, Consultant and the first author of the study. 

The trial was analysed and described using standard scientific methodology. The researchers stress that their findings should be interpreted with caution, as the magic of Christmas is very widespread. Additional research is necessary to cure Christmas fatigue or to identify networks in the brain related to other holidays. 

A total of 20 healthy clinical trial subjects took part in the study. The subjects underwent a six-minute "Christmas scan" following a more extensive scan for more traditional scientific purposes. The study has not received support from Father Christmas, nor from any other sponsors, and in line with the Christmas spirit the analyses were carried out by the research team on their own time. 

Responsible editor