This holiday season, researchers are using an MRI to find out where exactly the Christmas spirit resides.
Danish researchers used an MRI to see if they could see "evidence" of the Christmas spirit in different people. The extremely small study was published today in the British Medical Journal's annual Christmas issue, where researchers used tongue-in-cheek scientific methods as a way to bring some humor into the scientific field.
Researchers looked at 10 participants who celebrated Christmas and 10 who didn't celebrate the holiday. They had the participants fill out questionnaires on their feelings toward Christmas and then had them look at different images, including Christmas-related imagery as they underwent an MRI.
After going through the scans, the researchers found that those who celebrated Christmas appeared to have a significant increase in specific neural activation in specific areas of the brain when they looked at Christmas images over other visual images.
While the authors said, the findings were interesting, they explained that much more study was needed to determine if this increase in neural activity happens in a larger group and if the activity was indeed a sign of sustained Christmas spirit or if it was activated for another reason.
"Understanding how the Christmas spirit works as a neurological network could provide insight into an interesting area of human neuropsychology and be a powerful tool in treating ailments such as bah humbug syndrome," the authors wrote.
The authors said, that while this is an interesting first step at looking for the Christmas or holidays spirit, new research is necessary to understand if and how holiday traditions can leave a lasting impact on the brain.
"Although merry and intriguing, these findings should be interpreted with caution," they explained. “Something as magical and complex as the Christmas spirit cannot be fully explained by, or limited to, the mapped brain activity alone.”
Dr. Jeffrey Sunshine, vice chairman in the Department of Radiology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center said the study was fun, but not highly scientific and looked at how researchers may someday make something as intangible as holiday spirit into a tangible presence on an MRI scan.
"Maybe one day we’ll actually have an ability to use things like functional MRI to continue to link emotions in parts of the brain," Sunshine told ABC News.