Scientists found the ‘Christmas spirit’ with the use of an MRI

The Christmas spirit is a well-known phenomenon all around the world – it’s that warm fuzzy feeling of joy and nostalgia you experience around the festive season!

For many, the Christmas spirit is the reason to listen to Last Christmas by Wham one million times, to decorate their home and to be more generous to the people around them.

This phenomenon has been going on for centuries with millions of people being affected every Christmas. But is it ‘real’?

Scientists found the ‘Christmas spirit’ with the use of an MRI

Researchers used an MRI to find out if they could ‘’see’’ the Christmas spirit.

The study looked at 10 individuals who normally celebrated Christmas and 10 healthy people who didn’t celebrate Christmas.

The researchers asked the participants to fill out questionnaires about Christmas and then asked them to look at different festive pictures through video goggles including during a brain MRI scan.

The images were organised in such a way that after six consecutive Christmas themed images, there were six everyday images. The participants were aware they would be presented by different images but not that some of them would be festive themed. The Christmas images were the stimulation blocks in the experiment and the everyday images were resting blocks.


The researchers found that the individuals that celebrated Christmas appeared to have an increase in specific brain activity when they looked at the Christmas images over the other normal images.

Activation maps from the MRI scans showed an increase of brain activity in the primary visual cortex of both groups when the images viewed had a Christmas theme compared with the everyday images:

Scientists found the ‘Christmas spirit’ with the use of an MRI

Photo credit.

The group with the individuals that celebrated Christmas also had significant neural activity in the primary somatosensory cortex when the images were festive.

The author said, “Understanding how the Christmas spirit works as a neurological network could provide insight into an interesting area of human neuropsychology. This study could be an important first step in transcultural neuroscience and the associations humans have with their festive traditions.’’

A feeling is difficult to measure but the study was able to confirm a change in thinking and brain responses when the participants viewed the Christmas pictures.

Read the full study here: ‘’ Evidence of a Christmas spirit network in the brain: functional MRI study’’


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