To get into the spirit of Christmas, the merry ol' folks at Rigshospitalet, a hospital affiliated with Copenhagen University, have been conducting brain scans to measure how festive one is – as depicted in the original nativity play, probably...
Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan, the researchers, led by Bryan Haddock, attempted to localise the Christmas spirit. According to a press release: "An fMRI scan measures changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity, and can produce activation maps showing which parts of the brain are involved in a particular mental process."
The team recruited 10 people who celebrate Christmas, and 10 who didn't have any Christmas traditions. Each participant was scanned with the fMRI machine, while being shown 84 images and videos that were associated with the festive season.
The scans revealed five areas of the brain in the Christmas celebrators who responded to the images more positively, according to the jovial study published in BMJ's Christmas edition which contains quirky and fun subjects for this edition, but all 'real' scientific papers. The areas that lit up were the left primary motor and premotor cortex, right inferior and superior parietal lobule, and bilateral primary somatosensory cortex.
These areas of the brain have been linked to spirituality, somatic senses, and recognition of facial emotion.
The team write in their paper, which was intended to be tongue-in-cheek: "Although merry and intriguing, these findings should be interpreted with caution. Something as magical and complex as the Christmas spirit cannot be fully explained by, or limited to, the mapped brain activity alone."