It turns out that there’s a whole network in our brains devoted to the Christmas spirit.
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark accidentally found evidence of the network when they were conducting migraine research and “ve noticed that” several regions of the brain activate when healthy people view warm and fuzzy Christmas-themed photos. They published their finding in the British Medical Journal on Dec. 16.
“We received the findings very interesting, ” Dr. Bryan Haddock, a medical physicist at the university and a co-author of such studies, told The Huffington Post.
The network includes the occipital lobe, which is associated with vision; the primary and premotor cortex, associated with motion; and the bilateral primary somatosensory cortex, associated with the feeling of touch. The findings may offer a scientific explanation as to why some people have an Ebenezer Scrooge-like propensity to absence vacation cheer, said Haddock, who has his own family traditions of dancing around the Christmas tree.
He added, however, that it’s important to construe the findings with caution.
“All of these areas are involved in more complex operations that are less understood, ” he said. The scientists employed fMRI technology to pinpoint where brain responses to Christmas imagery passed, but not inevitably why or how these instances took place.
The researchers who looked at the “Christmas spirit network” concluded not only that more research is needed to understand the newfound network, but also that there could be other holiday-related circuits in the brain.
After all, this network is not all that lights up between your ears when you experience Christmas cheer. Scroll down for five other fascinating routes in which your brain may respond to season’s greetings.
1. Your brain on devoting
Yes, it feels awesome to open your gifts, but a 2006 MRI study showed that when you dedicate charitable gifts, your brain’s reward system still reacts as if you received something pleasurable yourself. Specifically, the researchers found that the brain’s mesolimbic reward system responded to the behavior of giving in the same route that it responded to receiving a monetary reward.
In other words, dedicating is equally as enjoyable as receiving.
2. Your brain on gratitude
During the holidays, as we spend quality period with family and friends, many of us reflect on how grateful we are for those we love.
A study published in September found that when that reflection happens, our brains may experience enhanced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex. These areas have been linked to emotional processing, social interactions and moral judgment.
“There has not been a great deal of attention given to the feeling of gratitude, and yet it is extremely important in social behavior, ” Dr. Antonio Damasio, the study’s senior author and a professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Southern California, said in a statement. “Gratitude rewards generosity and preserves the cycle of healthy social behavior.”
3. Your brain on stress
Our vacations are not only filled with love and family, but also with the tensions of shopping, traveling and baking.
In fact, a 2008 poll undertaken by the American Psychological Association showed that more than 8 out of 10 Americans anticipated feeling emphasized during the holidays. Among many other impacts, when we experience stress, an enzyme may be triggered to assault a molecule in the hippocampus, which is associated with emotion and memory, according to a 2014 survey. This may help explain why we become irritable and sometimes even forgetful when we’re anxious. Bah humbug.
4. Your brain on sugar
It’s tough to resist sugar plums, eggnog and gingerbread cookies, but when you chow down on holiday treats, the sugary goodness can send a signal from the tongue to the brain’s cerebral cortex, which activates the reward system.
Sure, stimulating the brain’s reward system now and then may not be problematic. But if the reward system is activated too much and too frequently, that may result in the brain having improved responses to and unhealthy cravings for sugar.
5. Your brain on the winter blues
If you tend to get a little blue during the vacation season, don’t blame Christmas. Rather, it may be the outcomes of seasonal affective disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that reoccurs seasonally, such as during the fall and winter months.
In 2014, researchers connected the biochemical cause of seasonal depression to higher levels of the serotonin transporter( SERT) protein, which affects mood.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
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