My background in neuropsychology affords me a somewhat unique perspective on Mitt Romney. I’m finding and accumulating evidence that he may show subtle but significant signs of mental impairments from a 1968 brain injury.
More to follow. . .
As anyone attending to the current presidential campaigns knows, Mitt Romney has a jittery, disengaged manner in his interactions with others; this is identified by many as his being "out of touch." It first caught my attention four years ago, when he emerged as a potential GOP presidential candidate. I initially assumed it was a result of his origins in a privileged and wealthy family in which he never really grew up emotionally, leaving him essentially a spoiled rich brat even in his adulthood. His ruthlessness in business and awkwardness in human interaction seemed to confirm this, and I can’t deny that it may explain much of his current social dysfunction.
But recently, when he claimed to be unable to remember having bullied John Lauber in his adolescence, bloggers were wondering if he was showing signs of dementia (as opposed to simply lying clumsily, which I suspected). Knowing about such disorders, I dismissed these hypotheses, understanding that his childhood and adolescent memories would remain intact, while his ability to retain and recall more recent and current information would be impaired if he was truly demented. But I got curious, and researched Romney's history in a bit more depth.
I found this.
It tells of his having been seriously injured in a car wreck in France in 1968, so severely that he was declared dead at the scene. And while he was later said to have only sustained a concussion, his apparent prolonged unconsciousness suggests that traumatic brain injury (TBI) would have been a more appropriate diagnosis.
Traumatic brain injury is generally associated with varying degrees of lasting mental impairment, which can include behavioral and/or mood disturbances, thought disorder, confusion, and deficits of concentration, attention, and memory. Years later, TBI survivors who have recovered most of their faculties and function may still show mild forgetfulness, impulsivity, and moodiness, and judgement can be disturbed in seemingly unpredictable ways. Interpersonal
eccentricities may be even more likely. The prognosis for a 19-year-old patient is certainly better than for someone in their thirties or forties, but if unconsciousness and posttraumatic amnesia are prolonged, at least some of these adverse effects of TBI are likely to remain. Romney went on to be quite successful in college, business and law schools, and corporate enterprise, so any residual impairments would likely be but mild, subtle, and obvious to the casual observer only in unusual, extraordinary circumstances. Still, they could lead an otherwise brilliant and successful man to:
●angrily confront the passenger in front of him in an airplane for pushing his seat back before takeoff
●defy a park officer’s orders not to launch a boat in a lake, leading to his 1981 arrest
●brush aside a security officer in the 2002 olympics, insulting the man with obscenities
●lose his temper when reminded by a conservative radio interviewer of his having ordered gender-neutral marriage certificates
●commit voter fraud by voting in Massachusetts in 2010 despite no longer residing there
●wager $10,000 during a presidential debate
●strap his dog on the roof of his station wagon for an extended trip
●suggest that "corporations are people"
●state how he likes "to fire people"
●contradict himself on multiple occasions
Romney would likely deny many or most of these events, at least the interpretations of them by his opposition, but he has actually admitted some awareness of such problems. Romney (and his wife Ann) have acknowledged the problems with his temper, referring to them as “Mitt-frontations,” her as a “Mitt-stabilizer.”
I have found numerous internet sites which refer to Romney’s “robotic self-control,” generally suggesting this as a favorable characteristic. It’s an interesting description, implying that his management of his impulses is mechanical and automated, lacking conscientiousness or emotional intuition. “Robotic” control is likely to be very effective in predetermined and unambiguous situations. But when circumstances exceed the scope of a robot’s programming, the reaction will quite possibly be unpredictable, and inappropriate. Naturally, we would expect the ambiguity and uncertainty of situations confronting a president are likely to be substantial, suggesting that any “robotic” tendencies in the executive office have a strong potential for ill-advised, potentially destructive decisions and actions.
So, what to do with this information, admittedly of uncertain credibility? One idea would be to challenge Romney to undergo neuropsychological assessment, which I'm assuming would demonstrate little in the way of measurable disorder (even if he agreed to participate which, of course, he wouldn't). But the question of his possible deficits from traumatic brain injury, even unproven, would undoubtedly lead many voters to have even greater doubts about him. It could discourage Romney from claiming to have no recollection of events from his past, and might compel him to avoid the frequent self-contradictions which have resulted in his multitude of “flip-flops” on issues. Not wanting to be seen as brain-injured and impaired, Romney may go to greater lengths to avoid vacillating on his political stances, such that he could no longer present incongruous positions to conflicting Republican factions, and would have to keep his stories straight in forthcoming debates with Obama.
I am aware that my speculations regarding a possible history of traumatic brain injury in Romney, and my association of that hypothetical brain damage with some of his many impulse control failures, “gaffes” and idiosyncrasies will be seen by some as a “character assassination.” As a clinical psychologist, I am bound by ethic principles to “improve the condition of individuals, organizations and society” while utilizing “special safeguards. . . to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making.” So, for me to raise these concerns as a psychologist regarding a man with whom I have no professional history, but which could adversely affect his political career, puts me in somewhat of an ethical quandary. An analogy would be a man - not my client - whom I’ve learned has probable epilepsy, but who nonetheless drives an automobile because he has never told his physician of his seizures, so that he will not lose his license. I’m not his therapist, so I have no obligation to protect his privacy. To report my knowledge to his doctor violates no mandate of confidentiality, but would set in motion a set of events which restrict his driving, and are likely to adversely affect him socially and vocationally. But as a member of the community in which he drives recklessly, I would consider myself responsible for taking steps to protect the well-being of those around us, for example, warning other medical professionals and authorities of the hazards of allowing him to drive. I would conclude that my obligation to “do no harm” is mitigated by my responsibility to protect society, and so I would alert the man’s physician.
I asked a few colleagues their opinions of my presenting this information and my interpretation of it in a public forum, and none thought to do so would violate ethical principles. I’ll admit to some clear bias in this case, in that I support Obama in his bid for reelection. Before I developed apprehensions about a potentially neurologically-impaired man becoming president, I had many other reasons to look unfavorably on Romney and his candidacy, and some have to do with my perceptions of his character, and failings in that regard. Still, I deny any intention of “character assassination” in making these statements; I want to help voters better understand the candidate by considering some troubling possibilities for which there is some evidence. My expressed concerns are not intended to provoke attacks on Romney’s character; instead, I hope they invite voters to view the man with some compassion as a quite successful survivor of a traumatic injury, which nonetheless may render him unfit for executive office.