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During war, the old guy will win the elections

By VU University Amsterdam

Candidates’ age can predict leadership during war

Can we predict the presidential election outcomes by simply looking at the age of the candidates? Scientists argue that we can.

In the latest issue of PLoS ONE, researcher Brian R. Spisak from VU University Amsterdam argues that there is an evolved connection between increasing age, increasing status, and the use of dominance tactics to maintain this ageing hierarchy. Further, followers are implicitly aware of this connection, as can be seen through their voting behavior.

According to Spisak: “Political science data show us that as nation-state leaders age, they are more likely to become engaged in interstate conflict. However, hormone data show us that testosterone decreases with age, which would suggest a decrease in tendencies for conflict.

"We found a positive connection between the increasing age of a leader, their status, and the use of dominant group strategies – also seen in a study of male Japanese macaques – to maintain the acquired benefits of their position. Followers systematically prefer older leaders for war and younger leaders for peace. "

Spisak altered the facial appearance of the age of Barack Obama and John McCain to make them look both younger and older, and then used a morphing technique to keep their facial features but make them relatively unrecognisable.

Spisak says: “We then paired these images for head-to-head mock elections and found that during war, no matter if it was Obama or McCain, followers always voted for the older image. So, for instance, young McCain versus old Obama or old McCain versus young Obama, it did not matter: old always won.

"It is not just a matter of voting for the most experienced leader: our participants switched to the younger leaders during peace. This strongly suggests that McCain would have had – and future older candidates will have – an increased chance of securing leadership by making the threat of intergroup conflict the most salient situational concern in the minds of the voters – perhaps something McCain did not consistently do.

"These findings are crucial for understanding how the democratic, and preferably rational, process of voting can be disrupted by our innate biases.”