Does Altitude Sickness Feed Obama Fever?

DENVER—Native Denverites here are all too eager to offer

tips to us flatlanders

on how to survive on 17 percent less oxygen to the brain. “[M]any conventioneers are likely to notice a shortness of breath,”



Denver Post

. “A few may suffer, for reasons researchers still don’t quite understand, throbbing headaches. A fraction might get hit with what can feel like a no-booze hangover—headaches along with nausea and lethargy.” (Others warn that the some-booze hangover is even worse; supposedly, rarefied air does a real number on one’s alcohol tolerance.)


The medical term for this is called cerebral hypoxia, and

NIH advises us

that “symptoms can include inattentiveness, poor judgment, and uncoordinated movement.” So one can’t help but wonder: Will the mile-high altitudes of Denver make Obama supporters even crazier than usual?


Literature and psychology are of some guide here. In Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel

The Magic Mountain

, protagonist Hans Castorp experiences some of this emotional bewilderment while holed up in a sanitorium high in the Alps. As quoted in

this 1994 study

on emotional contagion, Castorp thinks: “But when the heart palpitates by itself, without any reason, senselessly, of its own accord, so to speak, I feel that’s uncanny. … You keep trying to find an explanation for them, an emotion to account for them, a feeling of joy or pain, which would, so to speak, justify them.”


Four decades later, psychologists Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer


the conflux of physical arousal and emotions experimentally by injecting subjects with adrenaline. They found that those subjects who received the adrenaline were highly emotionally suggestible and would often interpret the physical arousal of the drug as a symptom of a heightened emotional state.

Subsequent studies have qualified and questioned Schachter and Singer’s results. More direct attempts to measure the effect of altitude on emotions have not found strong correlations; a

2005 study

found that small groups of men exposed to simulated altitudes of up to 4,500 meters did not exhibit significantly different mental capacities compared with the control group. The FAA’s


brochure on hypoxia

(PDF), on the other hand, tells us that “some people in an oxygen deficient environment actually experience a sense of euphoria—a feeling of increased well-being.” And a series of letters in the


Financial Times

recently pondered the possibility that flying at high altitudes makes one more likely to cry at cheesy movies. (

This guy

cried during

The Game Plan

, featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.)

Obamamania resists quantification, so it’s a bit hard to experimentally determine the effects of the thin air here. (Though my colleague Jim Ledbetter suggests a massive data-mining project to measure voting patterns as a function of altitude.) But in an election that could be decided by a hair, I don’t think John McCain should cede this advantage. It’s not too late for the RNC to relocate their convention to Albuquerque, N.M., 

elevation 5,300 feet

. Plus, New Mexico’s a swing state.