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Christmas Spirit Networks in the Brain? Kara Connect’s roundup of interesting psychology research about the holidays

Christmas Spirit Networks in the Brain? Kara’s roundup of interesting psychology research about the holidays

Running out of small talk in the office? Prepping some fun facts for Christmas gatherings- in person or online? You’re in luck.

In the run up to the holidays, we at Kara have been rounding up fun and interesting research around Christmas. Here’s what we found:

We have an area in our brains dedicated to Christmas spirit

In participants that celebrate Christmas and have positive associations with it, a team of researchers in Copenhagen have found significant clusters of brain activity in several cortical areas of the brain (dubbed ‘The Christmas Spirit Network’) that are related to spirituality, somatic senses and facial emotion recognition. So when you feel warm and fuzzy while putting up your tree and shopping for gifts, there’s a little bit of your brain working extra hard, dedicated to keeping you merry.

Wrapping your gifts sloppily could be a strength, not a weakness

One study has found that sloppily wrapping your gift to a friend leads to more positive attitudes about the gift itself. They found that recipients of sloppily wrapped gifts had lower expectations for the gifts themselves, making it easier for the gifts to meet those expectations. So you need not spend your time perfecting your neat corners and bows. However, be careful- this effect only held for friends, not acquaintances, so choose carefully which presents get special treatment this year.

Your Christmas meal makes you more trusting

Haven’t decided what to cook for your Christmas meal? Slightly wary of your new in-laws? There is some evidence that tryptophan, a protein building block found in meats such as turkey, chicken, pork and beef, promotes social bonding and interpersonal trust. Making sure you’ve got some tryptophan heavy foods in your meal this holiday could work in your favour. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that, but it can’t hurt to have the food on your side.

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Cinnamon tastes nicer in the wintertime

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In a study examining how we attribute smells to times of year, subjects reported that orange, cinnamon and cloves were more connected to the Christmas season. When participants smelled cinnamon during the Christmas season, they recorded higher familiarity and pleasantness than when they smelled it in the summertime. However, this should be taken with a grain of salt, as subjects also reported pineapple odour as more pleasant during the Christmas season than the summertime.

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Bing Crosby is helping us to detect hallucinatory experiences

While hallucinatory and schizophrenic experiences are more commonly studied using functional neuroimaging, some studies have used ‘The White Christmas Test’ to examine hallucinations. The most common variant of the test today involves subjects listening to a recording of the song, then listening to a recording of white noise through headphones, being told that the song might play within the white noise. If they hear the song clearly while listening to the white noise, they’re asked to press a button. While the song never actually plays in the white noise, some studies have found up to 32% of healthy controls pressing the button. Another study found that stress and caffeine consumption had a significant effect on responses- implying that our coffee addiction could be less innocent than we think it is…

So there you have it- if you ever needed an excuse to buy cinnamon-scented everything and cook a turkey to swing your in-laws in your favour, you’ve got science backing you up these holidays.


Merry Christmas and a happy new year from us at Kara!

Florence Mazy
Shane Cusack

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Florence Mazy
Shane Cusack