Friday, July 15, 2011

Uneasy Lies The Head

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown........... Shakespeare Henry IV, Part II.

So it is with us and our slightly distant primate cousins, so it seems.

A 9-year study of wild baboons in Kenya by Princeton University and the Institute of Primate Research may turn conventional assumptions of alphas males upside down.

The study found that alpha males have high testosterone levels, which allows them to dominate other baboons, get access to more food, and attract better mates. This is expected.

Surprisingly, though, the alpha males also have high levels of stress hormone glucocorticoid, which scientists measured from their feces samples. In fact, the stress of alpha baboons was on par with low-ranking baboons.

The convention wisdom is that access to food and females provides life security and thus less stress for dominant males. Conversely, weak males who are constantly threatened by starvation and physical violence from stronger males are thought to be more stressed.

The study did find that stress levels were generally inversely correlated with testosterone (which correlates with social status). However, the "singular exception" was for alpha males, or those are the absolute top.

In other words, the baboons with the lowest stress levels were those who were dominant but not at the absolute top of the social hierarchy.

Just call me Beta CIP