Thursday, November 18, 2004

Executive Functions in a Fictional West Wing

In the excellent Blue Stater fictional world of the administration of President Jed Bartlet on NBC’s The West Wing, a brief reference to brain-behavior functions played a minor plotline in this evening’s episode as the former Chief of Staff Leo McGarry reminds the new Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg to get the President to play chess with her at least once a week. This advisement is left as is until the end of the episode, when Leo reveals that this was his subtle way to attempt to discern whether the President’s “executive functions” were showing some degree of impairment. (For those new to the show, the President was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis prior to his first administration but did not reveal it publically until the time before his run for re-election several years ago).

“Executive functions” are a specific set of higher order brain functions that have been the subject of much neuroscientific interest for many years now. There are many good references that an interested person could access to learn about these neuropsychological functions in detail.

Here is a link to the abstract of one such study, published back in 1997:

J Foong, L Rozewicz, G Quaghebeur, CA Davie, LD Kartsounis, AJ Thompson, DH Miller and MA Ron. Executive function in multiple sclerosis: The role of frontal lobe pathology. Brain. 1997; 120(1): 15-26.

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