Psychology Scholar Welcomes '08 Race; Says Debate Rouses Brains

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Presidential politics may spark frustration and fascination, argument and camaraderie. But the horse race, high-profile debates and petty scandals are also good for people's brains.

Really.

Political engagement actually increases the number of our healthy memory circuits, according to one researcher.

"The psychology and fervor of the election really does affect our brains in a good way as we're busy wondering if Hillary is better than Obama, or if McCain is a conservative or a liberal," said neuro-pharmacologist John Roache, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

He puts the experience right on par with sexual drive and hunger.

"Our brains are hardwired genetically to pay attention, to process information and learn from it. When people get aroused, excited, emotional and involved with politics, it really does facilitate the formation of new neural connections," Mr. Roache continued. "This involvement grows neural connections and increases the neurochemical signaling that is associated with learning and memory."

The 2008 presidential race provides piquant stimuli, he added.

"It's taken on historical proportions. We could have the first black president, the first women president. People are really paying attention. Regardless of political orientation, this involvement is activating the brain," Mr. Roache said. "Greater levels of emotion or commitment further enhance the brain processes. …