Thursday, December 06, 2007

This Is the Presidential Candidates' Brains On...

...an editorial in the Los Angeles Times. I guess the west coast paper felt left out of the New York Times op-ed brouhaha caused by This Is Your Brain on Politics (and the op-ed rejoinder by a group of experts -- Politics and the Brain).

From The Trouble With Oscillation, a project by artist Sally McKay.

Getting inside their heads ... really inside

Presidential candidates' health is a campaign issue. So what about their brains?

By Daniel G. Amen
December 5, 2007


What do Rudy Giuliani's messy personal life, John McCain's temper and Hillary Clinton's inability to seem authentic have in common? Maybe nothing. They may be just overblown issues in the otherwise normal lives of candidates under the political microscope.

Such symptoms, however, may mean a lot -- such as evidence of underlying brain dysfunction. Sometimes people with messy personal lives have low prefrontal cortex activity associated with poor judgment; sometimes people with temper problems have brain damage and impulse control problems; sometimes people who struggle with authenticity have trouble really seeing things from someone else's perspective.

Is the brain health of a presidential candidate a fair topic in an election year? Certainly Dick Cheney's heart condition wasn't off-limits in 2000... Should we go so far as to do brain scans? Of candidates for the Oval Office? Some people might consider discussing brain health a ridiculous idea. Not me.

As a neuropsychiatrist and brain-imaging expert, [NOTE: huh, 9 papers in mostly low-profile journals] I want our elected leaders to be some of the "brain healthiest people" in the land. How do you know about the brain health of a presidential candidate unless you look? ...

Three of the last four presidents have shown clear brain pathology. [NOTE: oh really?? we only have evidence for AD in Reagan, as much as we'd like to believe that George W. has brain damage.] President Reagan's Alzheimer's disease was evident during his second term in office. Nonelected people were covering up his forgetfulness and directing the country's business. Few people knew it, but we had a national crisis. Brain studies have been shown to predict Alzheimer's five to nine years before people have their first symptoms. [NOTE: uh...no. Published studies say 2-3 years.]

President Clinton's moral lapses and problems with bad judgment and excitement-seeking behavior -- indicative of problems in the prefrontal cortex -- eventually led to his impeachment and a poisonous political divisiveness in the U.S. The prefrontal cortex houses the brain's supervisor, involved with conscience, forethought, planning, attention span and judgment.

One could argue that our current president's struggles with language and emotional rigidity are symptoms of temporal lobe pathology. The temporal lobes, underneath your temples and behind your eyes, are involved with language, mood stability, reading social cues and emotional flexibility.
I seriously doubt that the "messy personal life" of Rudy Giuliani or Bill Clinton is evident from reading their SPECT scans (the imaging methodology used by Dr. Amen in his highly profitable clinics), or their ultra-high resolution 7T MRI scans, for that matter. However, Adrian Raine and colleagues at USC may want to take a look at Dick Cheney's brain...

In a future world with a high degree of diagnostic accuracy, perhaps
Ensuring that our president has a healthy brain may be more than an interesting topic of conversation. It can be important information to put into the election equation. A president with brain problems could wreak havoc on the U.S. and the world at large. Maybe we shouldn't leave the health of our president's brain to chance. We have the tools; shouldn't we look?
No! Not now. Not yet.

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