What the Holidays do to Your Brain: MRI Study

The hashtags #backtowork and the less subtle #backtoworkblues appeared across Twitter on Monday as millions of people bade the holiday season farewell and settled back into their routines. While it’s natural to begrudge getting up early after an extended break of sleep-ins and visits with loved ones, is there something about the holiday season that brings about a change in the collective mindset? According to recent MRI science, the answer is yes.

The new study, published December 2015 by Danish resesarchers in the BMJ Journal, and entitled Evidence of a Christmas spirit network in the brain: functional MRI study, opened with:

“The Christmas spirit has been a widespread phenomenon for centuries, commonly described as feelings of joy and nostalgia mixed with associations to merriment, gifts, delightful smells, and copious amounts of good food. It is yet to be determined, however, where in the human body this “Christmas spirit” resides and which biological mechanisms are involved. We attempted to localise the Christmas spirit in the human brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).”

The researchers found a “Christmas spirit network” in their participants’ brains, consisting of: the bilateral primary somatosensory cortex (the region associated with the sense of touch), the primary and premotor cortex (the region associated with movement), and the occipital lobe (the region associated with sight). The researchers believe that this network may be the key behind why some people have only positive associations with the Christmas season, and why others may be labeled a “Grinch”.

Dr. Bryan Haddock, an author of the study, said that while the findings were of great interest to him, they should be interpreted with caution. There are many factors at play during the Christmas season, some negative (financial stress, Seasonal Affective Disorder, overindulgence in sugar and alcohol), some positive (gratitude for friends and loved ones, the joy of giving, overindulgence in sugar and alcohol) which very likely had an effect on the results, as well.

2016-01-06T19:05:30+00:00