According to recent research, brain scans can detect those who have failed to get into the holiday spirit and are instead exhibiting the “Bah Humbug Syndrome” as Christmas is fast approaching.
The study, featured on December 17 in the British Medical Journal, was conducted by a team of experts, under the supervision of Anders Hougaard, professor of neurology at the University of Copenhagen and researcher at the Danish Headache Center.
A total of 20 participants were included in the experiment, who were separated into two groups, based on their answers surveying their attitudes about Christmas.
Approximately a half of them had regularly observed this holiday, associating it with a season of joy and goodwill, whereas the other half displayed the “bah humbug” syndrome instead.
This negative attitude towards Christmas is named this way in honor of the words uttered by Ebenezer Scrooge, the protagonist of Charles Dickens’ most famous work, “A Christmas Carol”.
In the novella, Scrooge is initially presented as an unsympathetic cheapskate who loathes Christmas with a passion, frequently dismissing it as a fraud by saying “Bah! Humbug!”.
Therefore, researchers decided to use these evocative words so as to illustrate the feeling of vexation, emptiness and reluctance that some people experience as the winter celebration is getting near.
During the trial, subjects had their brain activity monitored as they viewed a set of 84 images, using special video glasses.
Every photograph appeared on the screen for 2 seconds, and either showed Christmas scenes (colorful lights, decorations etc.) or random activities and objects, without emotional significance (such as bread slices).
By analyzing functional MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) through blood-oxygen-level dependent contrast (BOLD) techniques, it was determined that being a self-professed Grinch results in reduced activity in brain areas that are related to being spiritual and skilled at reading facial expressions.
In contrast, people who had declared they were extremely fond of Christmas showed much more intense neural response when gazing at images illustrating this holiday.
Brain regions associated with spirituality and emotional intelligence, such as the primary somatosensory cortex which plays a vital role in pain perception, were much more astir in their case, showing that this is where the Christmas spirit may be born.
As explained by study authors, it is hoped that their findings will assist all those people who suffer from the “bah humbug syndrome”.
Now that the exact spot where such feelings form has been identified, it might become easier to help people regain their enjoyment of the winter holidays.
As emphasized by Dr. Matthew Lorber, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hospital, the results also suggest that in time, as memories build up regarding a certain celebration, the brain develops certain reactions to it, until those emerge automatically, a single picture being enough to trigger them.
On the other hand, researchers admit that they don’t believe that a concept as intricate and meaningful as the Christmas spirit can be fully deciphered by relying on science only.
There are obviously much more complex mechanisms at play, which can’t be revealed by focusing on brain activity exclusively.
Nevertheless, the results appear like a good starting point for carrying out a more in-depth analysis into the origin of various emotions experienced during holidays such as Easter or Thanksgiving Day.
It may be that different festive occasions are associated with distinct brain activity, or there may always be the same pattern, which would mean that certain people actually have difficulty getting into the holiday spirit throughout the year, regardless of the event that they are supposed to celebrate.
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