Alpha males

Frans de Waal, professor of primate behavior, recently spoke at the 3th Day of self organization (Rotterdam 2011, Derde dag van de zelforganisatie).

De Waal talked about (1) Conflict and Power and (2) Empathy and Cooperation, two dimensions of the field of politics. A staccato briefing for the enthusiasts. Why staccato? I believe the elegance and strength of De Waal lies within his straight forward answers. Let’s not contaminate these answers, but beware of it’s context.

1) Conflict and Power

High rankers need support from low rankers
Low rankers expect favors from high rankers

These interactions extend both reach and power of individuals within a coalition.

As explained through one of his visuals:


The major and medior groups have the option to form a coalition. However this will be a weaker coalition, compared to a coalition of the medior and the minor group. This latter is stronger because of stronger dependency to withstand the major group.

A populist Alpha male supports loosers (provided that he is no bully)
A pre-Alpha male supports winners (in his run toward Alpha status)

I’m not sure what this means to a coalition like this, where there is not necessarily an Alpha male in the middle:


Aggression / conflict brings individuals together… after the conflict!

Also check the comments on my previous post on Methods of conflict management, related to the statement above.

2) Empathy and cooperation

There is an emotional channel, with emotional contagion
There is a cognitive channel, with self-other distinction

No comment to that. It reminds me of Leary’s Rose in a way… Check this older post about loyalty and disbehavior.

When a mouse sees another -familiar- mouse in pain, it bothers that mouse too.

In other words: empathy is not only a behavioral aspect of higher primates. Source: Langford DJ 2006

Getting attention raises the willingness to sharing
Pressuring reduces the willingness to sharing

Nothing new here, although in conflict individuals easily go from excitement to dominance to aggression. At least in the case of dogs, according to Dog Wisperer Cesar Milan… 😉

Unequal rewards induce (emotional) resistance.

Exactlty like Sarah Brosnan (Georgia State University) concludes. The final statement about language -in this video below- is somehow questionable, don’t you agree?


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