Scientists Pinpoint Where ‘Christmas Cheer’ Lives In The Brain

Ebenezer Scrooge’s long-held opposition to Christmas could actually have been a neurological issue.

Though he’s a fictional character in what’s essentially a long ghost story, Scrooge was the inspiration for a recent study conducted at the University of Copenhagen for the British Medical Journal’s annual off-beat Christmas issue. (In the past, the BMJ has explored — with real science! — such pressing research topics as why Rudolph has a red nose.)

After comparing the way the brains of people who celebrate Christmas “light up” when looking at Christmas imagery to the brains of people who don’t celebrate Christmas, the Danish researchers suggest it’s possible to identify what “Christmas cheer” looks like in the brain. This could one day lead to a cure for what they called the “bah humbug syndrome” that afflicts people who celebrate the holiday, but no longer feel cheer.

“Accurate localization of the Christmas spirit is a paramount first step in being able to help this group of patients,” wrote senior author Bryan Haddock, a medical physicist.

But as silly as Haddock’s tone is, there are at least two serious benefits to this study. One, Haddock points out, is that it’s simply a fun and informative way to illustrate how fMRI scans work and what they can show us. But on a global scale, it could also open up research into how people of all cultures and religions feel about the traditions they celebrate.

Haddock writes in all seriousness that this research could be an “important first step” in neuroscience that explores our brain’s relationships to holidays of all kinds. He hopes that other scientists will take up these research techniques, especially to explore the way visual links to Easter, Hanukkah, Diwali and other traditional religious celebrations affect the brains of people who have been celebrating —> Read More