Christmas Spirit Is Real, and Scientists Have Found It in Your Brain

文/约书亚·A. 克里施   译/高歌   审订/钱多秀
By Joshua A. Krisch

Can we use fMRI[1] brain scans to detect our levels of Christmas Spirit? These neuroscientists think so.


[1 ]fMRI 功能磁共振成像:功能磁共振成像对流向特定脑区的血液的变化进行检测。它同时提供脑的解剖和功能视图。

Christmas Spirit[2] has finally been located within the human brain, according to a new study in The BMJ[3]. The study suggests that, for some people, there may be a festive network within the brain responsible for recording positive memories of holiday joy, thus associating the Christmas season with the Most Wonderful Time of The Year.


[2] 圣诞节宣讲的是上帝对人类的大爱。圣诞精神,就是自信,坚强,仁爱,分享,善良,坚持。

[3]《英国医学杂志》,英文名称为British Medical Journal,简称 BMJ,是世界著名的四大综合性医学期刊之一。

"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[4]," the authors write. "Accurate localization of the Christmas spirit is a paramount first step in being able to help this group of patients. Location of the Christmas spirit could also contribute to a more general understanding of the brain's role in festive cultural traditions, making a medical contribution to cross cultural festivities and goodwill to all."



Until now, scientists had no idea where in our brains the Christmas spirit resided. What neural circuits[5] fire while you're slurping eggnog[6]? What  about when you haul a Christmas tree up four flights of stairs?


[5] neural circuit 神经环路。

[6] eggnog 蛋酒,圣诞节最具代表性的饮品,由鸡蛋、牛奶和朗姆酒调制而成。

A team of scientists from Copenhagen University resolved to figure that out for annual Christmas issue of The BMJ,  which approaches novel topics with serious science, like whether the British really have worse teeth than Americans or why there are more men with mustaches in medical school leadership roles than women leaders. And, in this particular Christmas study, the researchers answer an even broader question about neuroscience: How  do our brains store and recall festive cultural traditions?


Functional MRI may hold the key. fMRI scans measure blood flow and blood oxygenation in specific areas of the brain in response to neural activity. These scans can map out pathways involved in particular mental processes—perfect for detecting brain activity during peak Christmas Spirit. In this particular study, researchers hooked 20 volunteers up to fMRI ("no eggnog or gingerbread[7] was consumed before the scans," the researchers  note) and showed them Christmas-themed images. Afterwards, the participants answered a survey about their Christmas memories and traditions.

功能核磁共振或许能提供答案。它扫描大脑应答神经活动的特定区域中的血流量及血氧。这种扫描能绘制出特定思维过程中所涉及的路径,这对在圣诞精神达到峰值时探测大脑活动来说是完美的工具。在这项专门研究中,研究者们让 20 位志愿者接受功能磁共振成像扫描(研究者们特别提到:“扫描前,受试者没有摄入任何蛋酒和姜饼”),并向他们展示了圣诞主题的图像。之后,给他们做了一份关于圣诞记忆和传统的问卷调查。

[7] gingerbread 姜饼,一种传统圣诞食物,最早可见于古罗马帝国时代。姜饼的主要原料是姜,在当时非常受欢迎而且数量丰富,但在罗马帝国没落后,姜就在欧洲消失了踪影,直到马可·波罗在大约1295年时,再次从中国把姜带回欧洲大陆。

The results highlighted five clusters of activity that differed strongly between participants who celebrated Christmas and those who did not. Specifically, the scientists found increased brain activity near the frontal premotor cortex,  somatosensory cortex and the parietal lobule in people who celebrated Christmas—in other words, a functional Christmas network woven into the human brain.



… and here's how those brain regions are linked to holiday cheer:

Parietal lobules have been shown in earlier fMRI studies to play a determining role in self transcendence, the personality trait regarding predisposition to spirituality. Furthermore, the frontal premotor cortex is important for experiencing emotions shared with other individuals… recall of joyful emotions and pleasant ingestive behaviour shared with  loved  ones  would be likely  to elicit activation here. There is growing evidence that the somatosensory cortex plays an important role in recognition of facial emotion and retrieving social relevant information from faces. Collectively, these cortical areas possibly constitute the neuronal correlate of the Christmas spirit in the human brain.



Now, fMRI has its limitations. In fact, one 2009 study found that fMRI readings are so prone to error that a dead, frozen Atlantic salmon "showed" brain activity on an fMRI scan, despite, well, being dead. The authors acknowledge this limitation, and they respond with a surprising amount of  holiday cheer. "Naturally,  in keeping with the good spirit of the holiday, we disagree with these negative perspectives," they write.

然而,功能磁共振也有一些局限性。事实上,一项 2009 年的研究发现:一条死掉且冷冻的大西洋鲑鱼在功能磁共振扫描下“显示出”大脑活动,虽然其的确是一条死鱼。这说明功能磁共振成像数据极有可能出错。该研究的作者承认这一局限,但他们的回应有着节日般的轻松心态。“很自然,为了与节日的欢乐保持一致,我们不同意那些负面态度。”他们写道。

The authors also note that their Christmas photographs inevitably contain  traditional  Christmas  colors, and  say  that  they  cannot  rule  out  that they  have simply uncovered a neural pathway[8] for processing red and green colors. Furthermore, the scientists admit that their findings are likely not detecting the Christmas Spirit per se[9], but rather homing in on the regions of our brain responsible for processing  any nostalgic holiday.


[8] neural pathway 神经通路,也叫传导通路,神经系统内传导某一特定信息的通路。它能传导某种特定信息,如视、听或随意运动的冲动等。

[9] per se 本身。

"Bringing these issues up, however,  really dampened the festive mood," the authors write. "Therefore we, in the best interest of the readers of course, decided not to ruin the good Christmas cheer for everyone by letting this influence our interpretation of the study." Nice work, everyone.