If you were a fan of biology in high school, you would probably know that your brain is made up of many different centre’s that control different parts of your body, both mentally and physically. While this is generally pretty well known, scientists have recently discovered that we all also have an area of the brain that has a “holiday centre” in it.
So what exactly is a holiday centre? Well, according to research based in Denmark, researchers have found that different parts of your brain light up when thinking about special holiday memories, traditions, music and much more, more so compared to normal during your every-day part of the year.
The study, which was originally published in The British Medical Journal was conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and used 20 subjects who celebrated Christmas in unique and overall different ways. During the study, researchers noticed that half of the people in the study had strong Christmas traditions, while only 10 came from families and cultural backgrounds that didn’t celebrate Christmas at all.
The 20 people that took part in the study were then given functional magnetic resonance imaging scans which look at electrical activity in an individual’s brain while the individuals were taking part in reels of images that were either “Christmas-related” or completely ordinary. The aim of the study? to was to see how Christmas-related experiences lit up their brain and in particular, in those people who considered themselves are Christmas lovers, or generally those who actively took part in Christmas traditions and festivity.
The scientists involved in the research wrote in the study’s introduction that “Throughout the world, we estimate that millions of people are prone to displaying Christmas spirit deficiencies after many years of celebrating Christmas. We refer to this as the ‘bah humbug’ syndrome.” However, the study itself revealed some deeply intriguing things about how Christmas affects the brains of those who have no deficiencies of Christmas spirit, or desire to be festive in any way at all.
Throughout the duration of the study, both subject groups showed increases in activity in the primary visual cortex when they saw Christmas-related images. However, there were five areas where the Christmas-loving subjects showed a lot of activity, where those who weren’t fans of Christmas or celebrating in the holidays didn’t. These five areas included the primary somatosensory cortex, left primary motor and premotor cortex, right parietal lobule, and bilateral primary somatosensory cortex. According to the researchers, the parietal lobules of the brain “play a determining role in self transcendence, the personality trait regarding predisposition to spirituality.” As such, those people who experience Christmas as a religious or spiritual holiday will usually show activity here. Where as the frontal premotor cortex seems to respond to memories of the emotions and actions of others, the somatosensory cortex “plays an important role in recognition of facial emotion and retrieving social relevant information from faces,” says the study notes. To put it simply, the newly found holiday center of the brain is remembering happy times with family and friends, and indulging in a feeling of togetherness and bonding which you automatically relate to the festivities around you.
While the news that we may all have discovered a new part of our anatomy, researchers have urged to take the results of the study with a large grain of salt, stating that they would further need to conduct more studies based around the subject size of their groups, cultural influence, and how these relationships may show up differently in the brain. All that aside, it’s clear that a major holiday like Christmas is leaving an imprint on the brain one way or another.