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A 21 year old president does not have a fully developed brain

April 29, 2015

On 22 May, Ireland will vote in a referendum on a proposal to reduce the minimum age of a president to 21. This is not a good idea because the human brain’s frontal lobes – critical for good judgment – are not fully wired to the rest of the brain until the mid twenties on average. This is why insurance premiums for young drivers are so high. Presidents have to have good judgment. Most 21 year olds don’t yet have it. 

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon JM permalink
    May 5, 2015 5:36 am

    This is a huge topic in itself. Even if complete development isn’t until mid 20’s at what age is a human cognitively competent enough to be a legally autonomous being? Age of criminal responsibility, age of consent, voting age vary around the world and often don’t align. these vegan kids seem quite cable to of making an informed and considered stance on their diet, and in some cultures children this age care for their siblings while their parents work. Given the variability and the fact we know that even older more intelligent people can be compromised by personal cognitive biases, wouldn’t a better stance is to go on a case by case basis and or some sort of test?

  2. May 5, 2015 10:21 am

    Simon, I see your point but there is a huge difference between a legally autonomous being who can vote and being the representative of the state who has to exercise great restraint, judgment and wisdom which can only happen after a certain amount of experience in the world and which a 21 year old simply cannot have.

    • Simon Jm permalink
      May 13, 2015 7:27 am

      Hmmm Ian given the choice would you prefer a level headed 21 year old or another George Bush Jr? Often wisdom doesn’t come with age or experience. In fact Bush had age and experience and look what we got. Secondarily it is also about the institutions and other people in office. Look at the disappointment Obama has been. & granted in many Western societies we wish to extend childhood and I often hear 20’s yr olds called kids. So you have a point with our cultures. But I’ll put you on the spot, who would you vote for between Malala Yousafzai and George Bush Jr? Maybe unfair as we didn’t know what we were going to get but it does show age and experience isn’t everything.

      Ps did you see the research about wearing suits helping to encourage big picture thinking?

      • May 13, 2015 1:35 pm

        Simon, I don’t want to be facetious, but why not add Kim Jong Un into the frame of choice? Remember, it is presidents we are discussing here, not prime ministers! Would love to see the suits study! Best Ian

    • Simon Jm permalink
      May 13, 2015 2:06 pm

      LoL I wouldn’t have said Bush was as bad Kim Jong Un but at least the North Koreans have the excuse they didn’t elect him. 😉 & given the Presidency in Ireland is largely ceremonial isn’t that even less of of a reason to worry about it? Maybe a better reason is that is lessens the gravitas by having a 21 yr old as the head of state. Being an Australian republican I would rather a 21 year old than the Queen 😉 & sure if you had a Justin Bieber like character -worse than Kim Jong Un?- I would worry, but I’m sure you could find some level headed young person who wouldn’t disgrace the role. It does remind me of the sort of things said about women before the vote or being against women in the army. Maybe many aren’t suitable but that shouldn’t be a reason against those that are. Just my 2 cents

      Anyway maybe you can dig up the paper from this

      “Wearing formal clothing makes us feel more powerful, which brings with it a sense of more social distance from other people. Power and abstract processing have been repeatedly linked to one another in literature,”

      He speculates that this link could come from the fact that business leaders need to focus on the big picture, while their staff need to focus more on the details.

  3. May 5, 2015 11:31 am

    Aren’t you anchoring on the age of 21 in thinking about this referendum question? The question is not whether there should be a president who has immature frontal lobes. It is whether there could be presidential candidates who are 21 and older – the “and older” part being especially important here. There are plenty of capable people with well-developed brains as well as, more importantly, fantastic experience and demonstrable skills of diplomacy, reasoning and judgment who are excluded from the possibility of representing us as president currently. There has been little debate about this referendum but almost all of what I have seen has placed too much emphasis on the lower bound of the age range being made possible with this constitutional amendment.

    • May 5, 2015 11:42 am

      Chris, thanks for the thoughtful comment. In Scotland now they have votes for 16 year olds. Would you agree to lower the age to 16? I think probably not, and for similar reasons underlying my view that 25 should be the absolute minimum – too limited experience to make difficult decisions in complex situations and and an insufficiently developed mental apparatus to them. Apart from that, the job is totally inappropriate for a 21 year old, with 99% of it requiring holding your tongue so as not to offend others and sitting through long tedious ceremonies. People don’t look to 21 year olds for wisdom, and nor should they: 21 year olds are designed to shake up complacency, come up with new, unsettling ideas and to be active agents in the world. That is not the job description for a president.

      • May 5, 2015 11:51 am

        I totally agree that a 21 year old would not be suitable for the office of president. However, we are given the choice now between presidents who are over 35 only and presidents who can be younger than 35. I will vote for the second option because I believe there are many capable potential candidates under the age of 35 (and again I agree, probably older than 25). I think there are plenty of democratic processes which will prevent there from ever being a president under 25 so I don’t see the need for legislation preventing this from happening, especially if it limits our pool of capable candidates.
        On the voting age, no, I would not lower it. Apart from the cognitive developmental argument, there just isn’t good enough civic and political education here. I hope it is better in Scotland.

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