Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What's Wrong with being an Alpha Male?

Apparently, a lot according to this Wall Street Journal article entitled "Are Alpha Males Healthy?":
It isn't easy being an alpha male. Getting to the top and staying there takes a physical toll.

The latest evidence comes from wild baboons in Kenya's Amboseli basin. Researchers from Princeton and Duke universities studied 125 males in five groups over nine years and found that while the alpha males got the best food and the most mates, they experienced far more stress than the beta males just beneath them in the hierarchy, based on the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in fecal samples.

The beta males had almost as many mates and got just as much grooming from others, but they didn't have to spend as much time fighting or following females around to keep other males away.

The article mentions a book called Alpha Male Syndrome. I took a look at it on Amazon and found that is written by a psychologist and her husband who "steer Alphas and those who work with them away from dysfunction and towards productivity in this action-oriented book that may miss its overconfident primary target." So being an alpha male is "dysfunctional?"

While it is possible that alphas are more stressed and that betas have a more relaxing life, I'm not so sure. Betas have their own problems, we may just not have enough research and understanding of beta men to see the impact on their psychological life and on society. It seems to me that this article and book is more of an exercise in steering masculine men towards acting more like women, though in a subtle way by saying "being an alpha is bad for your health, it could kill you."

Do you think being an Alpha male is unhealthy? If so, is being a Beta better?


Blogger Ern said...

Two observations:

1. It's just possible that what is true of baboons isn't true of humans.

2. Laurence Gesquiere, the "lead author of the study" according to the WSJ article, is female; in fact, all the "members" (according to the Altmann Laboratory's website) of the Altmann Lab are female. Call me paranoid, but I'm suspicious, given the women's movement's history of fabricating data.

7:43 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Ern's point 1 may be quite significant given the HUGE difference in the complexity, etc of human societies vs baboon societies.

Considering the modern trend to degrade everything male, Ern's point 2 is probably more significant.

Plus, it's about the survival of the species, not the individual.

The biggest problem for most people with being an alpha male is that they're not.

7:55 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Eric said...

Stress is bad for you from a medical standpoint. Yet we all have stress. So I don't see how zeroing in on "alphas" is especially helpful, unless "betas" are defined as people who don't have stress. (Which isn't the case....)

8:35 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger CSPB said...

I find that my stress level has decreased as I have become more alpha. It is easier to interact with men and women. I am noticed by better women and respected by other men.

9:02 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

Using observations of animals to base speculation of human actions on is marginal at best. At least this time it was primates instead of birds or cats.

But they're missing the big point (and probably on purpose). Alpha evolved for a reason. It propagates genes, of which there was no mention other than 'betas screw too'.

The article ignores the fact that reproduction is to beget and acts as if the only things important to the alpha are personal comforts, which seems to be pretty much the entire leftist POV - does it do me personal, immediate comfort?

The article also seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time on *disfunctional* alphas. Hmmm? Reason to focus on those who don't develop friendships, compete with their own children, etc? Show that being alpha is bad.

What is bad is the conclusion, which should have been: "Disfunctional alpha males show greater signs of stress."

No one would have been surprised.

9:05 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Zorro said...

How charming. Human society is now measured against the metrics of a wolf pack.

I feel like George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life, on seeing Beford Falls turned into Pottersville.

I weep for the future.

9:31 AM, September 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds like rubbish. A bunch of women trying to de-ball alphas - really, haven't these people done enough damage?

9:35 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Zorro said...

If a man is a full-blown Type-A socially dominant asshole who obsesses about being #1 in all things, then, yeah, that's unhealthy.

But I hardly believe being alpha is inherently unhealthy.

Think of Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. Ever know men like that? I have. They are 100% alpha, and there's nothing wrong with them.

Thag is correct. This is more demonization of men that is contributing to this "End of Men" bullshit. Men can do nothing right. If a man wants to become completely invisible, he only has to do something good or right and nobody will see him.

Those 300 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11? Who? What? When did this happen?

Nope. But if a man raises his voice to a woman, it's front page news with a web site devoted to his dysfunctionality.

Our entire culture is completely pussified. (no offense)

9:47 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger SGT Ted said...

Study subtext:

Men are like baboons.

10:08 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger BobH said...

FWIW, Robert Sapolsky probably knows as much about this subject as anybody or, at least, he likes to write and talk about it.

10:57 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Peregrine John said...

There's a further subtext, or perhaps rather a corollary carefully tucked out of sight, an iceberg to rip a hole in the side of the Ship of Feminism. Best not to follow these things to their logical conclusion; just leave it at "be less male" and the facade may survive.

10:59 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

as my step-daughter is apt to say..."he such a boy".

to the emerging modern woman, the whole idea of maleness is repugnant.

i've just learned to stay out of their way.

11:21 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

and to answer the question as to whether being alpha is unhealthy or not, of course it's unhealthy.

to make my case i will briefly describe a typical 90 minute game of soccer in my competitive league.

running hard, being shoved, tripped, shirt pulled, shouted at by team-mates and opposition. dealing with poor calls from the ref, discovering the refs tolerance for physical aggression of my own toward the opposition, hitting the opposition hard back to fight for space on and off the ball...running while fighting pain from tackles and lack of breath, constantly trying to out-smart the other team while maintaining control of the ball and running the fine edge of illegality with the refs.

oh yeah and, putting the ball in the net as often as possible.

does that sound like it could be similar to the boardroom or the disco?

11:37 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger HMT said...

Love Alphas. They're the go getter types, lead from the front and all that stuff. Bad alphas don't last long and serve as a nice warning sign post for the good alphas. Good alphas typically listen to good betas. That's me. The 'sad little' beta. HA. Sure I'll never be CEO of a company or make millions on my crazy entrepreneurial idea, but I also won't go bankrupt trying to finance it and find out it really was crazy. Bless the alphas, someone has to go first. I respect them and envy them the glory but I'd never trade places.

11:49 AM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Larry J said...

Stress is bad for you from a medical standpoint.

This isn't necessarily true. Studies have shown that someone with no stress tends to have lower performance than people under some stress. However, when stress increases beyond some threshold, performance decreases.

Each individual has a different tolerance to stress. Training can increase a person's tolerance to stress but it's likely that only people with an inate high stress tolerance can perform successfully in extremely stressful jobs such as a Navy SEAL.

12:22 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger The CronoLink said...

It depends on what kind of "beta" you are talking about; a beta in a sexual context is very different from a beta in a socio-sexual context. (Check out Vox Day's explanation of that hierarchy)

1:27 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger GawainsGhost said...

Years ago, I read a book on how to write a romance novel. It was, naturally, written by a woman.

She wrote that male characters had to be categorized as either an alpha, a beta, or a gamma. This is the way women think.

Actually, there's a fourth category, the omega. He's the fox, the trixter, the unconventional male. He doesn't run with the pack.

I'd much rather be an omega than an alpha, a beta or a gamma.

2:37 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Ern said...

Good alphas typically listen to good betas. That's me. The 'sad little' beta.

Excellent observation, HMT! I'm the sad little beta, too. Smart alphas like me around because:

- I have skills that they don't (I like making things work)

- I'm not a threat to them, since I have no interest in making people do things, changing people's minds, etc. (making software or other things work is so much more fun)

3:50 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Ken Green said...

1) The alpha/beta dichotomy is over-simplified, even in the context of non-human species. It doesn't even translate directly into reproductive success. In many species, males that adopt female characteristics (in order to lull other males into false security) regularly impregnate females at high levels of success. This is seen from fish to apes. Animals in beta roles reproduce quite nicely.

2) Human society is more complex than animal societies because it is more diverse, and more multi-dimensional. It is not simply about using physical strength to secure access to fertile females.

A better way to think of how human males operate is as a sports team, in which each male is an alpha at his position, in that particular assemblage. Thus, you wouldn't call the Yankee shortstop a "beta" Yankee. Nor is the pitcher, catcher, or leading batter an "alpha" Yankee. And the idea that, say, the hockey player with the third-highest goal score is a "beta" to the guy with 10 more goals is idiotic, since outside of the context of their team performance, such comparisons are meaningless.

3) The alpha/beta dichotomy as it applies to human men is, as a previous commenter pointed out, a hierarchy created in women's romance novels, which are as stereotypical as any other kind of porn. And like any porn, it bends women's sexuality out of shape and makes it harder for them to have a normal heterosexual relationship, because normal men can never live up to their porno-alphas, who, to be completely honest, would find them completely uninteresting. The alpha men of romance novels if they were real, would be looking for sex with barely-legal models, not women who read romance novels.

4) Recently, the alpha/beta dichotomy has been hijacked by feminists and their flunkies who first, want to re-affirm that such an arbitrary distinction is real, second, want to define male leadership as unhealthy and destructive, and third, to get society, and men themselves to buy into such idiocy.

5) Finally, notice that in the article denigrating male alpha status as being a health hazard, it invokes a mysterious magic that makes females immune to such stress. Women, according to the feminists, can be alpha without suffering any of the problems men have. Never mind that women's obesity, smoking, heart disease, and mental disorders are increasing in direct proportion to their roles in the workplace. This is a dead giveaway of political slant in any article about male/female differences. If it plays to men's advantage, it's bad, if it plays to women's, it's good, by definition.

4:03 PM, September 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:13 PM, September 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happens when an "Alpha Male" gets backed down and totally humiliated by someone with a lot more Firepower than him?

Is he still an Alpha Male? I wish someone would answer this question, but they never do.

4:32 PM, September 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would especially treasure an answer from the Alpha Males here.

4:39 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Bob Sorensen said...

There was a lesson in "From Russia with Love" regarding Siamese Fighting Fish. Blofeld had three males in a tank. Two were fighting, the third was staying outside and watching. After the two had worn themselves out, he took his opportunity.

Work smarter, not harder. Let the others monkey around and wear themselves out.

5:07 PM, September 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"I guess, in summary, I have no idea what an Alpha Male is."

Translation: I'm not an alpha. I'm weak and pathetic and wish people would stop noticing how weak and pathetic I am.


6:28 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Don said...

Not really buying all the angst about "alpha" and "beta." These are pseudoscientific labels when applied to people, as nearly as I can tell. Most people who use them are picturing a human "alpha" as the equivalent of a wolf "alpha," and not only does that assume that human communities and canine packs are very similar, but it seems to have been discredited by later research in the case of wolves anyway.

The fun part: Most likely people who find these terms important will ignore this comment. But if more than a few comment on it, it'll be fun to watch them decide whether to dismiss me as an alpha who doesn't want to admit that he benefits from being an alpha ("It's easy to act above it all when you have it all. . . .") or dismiss me as a beta who doesn't want to admit that he's sad and miserable living in the shadow of the alphas ("Oh, sure, the mangina doesn't believe in labeling manginas as betas . . . ")

Have fun, everybody!

7:10 PM, September 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, there's a fourth category, the omega. He's the fox, the trixter, the unconventional male. He doesn't run with the pack.

That sounds more like a Sigma in Vox Day's analysis. Omega, from everything I've seen, is generally the bitter loser who gets nothing. Of course, lots of those do fancy themselves Sigmas, unsurprisingly. Vox Day also adds Delta, which is all the regular guys, if memory serves. His system seems to do a fairly good job of delineating the types, if you're into that sort of thing.

Not to be a Vox Day groupie or anything; just thought his system was interesting.

7:36 PM, September 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol @ Don

That's why I thought Vox Day's thing was a bit more nuanced and so kind of interesting.

7:37 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Ignorance is Bliss said...

href="">Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard.

8:38 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger pst314 said...

Why use baboon data?

Wouldn't it be easier and more useful to study the health and longevity of human beings?

Oh wait, this isn't about knowledge, it's politics.

8:50 PM, September 14, 2011  
Blogger Gospace said...

The widespread adoption of monogamy allows non-alpha males to reproduce quite successfully.

And leads to an an overall success of the civilization that adopts monogamy.

The Islamic world is the only part of civilization still practicing polygamy. In the last few hundred years, they have contributed the following scientific and literary achievements to the world at large:


Establishment of monogamy as a cultural practice is the triumph of the non-alpha male over the alpha. Goes hand in hand with the rule of law, rather then the rule of sword.

6:48 AM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger Zorro said...

@Harold: "rather than..."


Good point. The UN, with the cooperation of the Arab world, determined a couple years ago that Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, and Egypt combined translated into Arabic and published fewer books from outside the Arab world for Arab consumption in the past 100 years than did Greece (non-Greek texts into Greek) in the past ONE year.

9:46 AM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

enternamehere, the alpha regroups to plan his next attack...i would have thought that would have been obvious.

10:35 AM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

EnterNameHere --

"What happens when an "Alpha Male" gets backed down and totally humiliated by someone with a lot more Firepower than him?"

That's called "another alpha". Did you actually think there was 'only one', like some Highlander movie?

11:22 AM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger Joe said...

I've long found that applying the alpha/beta male concept to human males is absurd. Human males are remarkably magnanimous, with leadership roles shifting constantly. Hence, a male may exhibit so-called alpha male characteristics at church, but with the same set of men at work or on a softball team, may display nothing of the sort--quite the contrary; the men will more often than not defer to the person most capable for that situation.

On the other hand, I have long observed that human females are extremely hierarchical and that hierarchy carries over into all walks of life. Thus the pecking order at church becomes the pecking order in basketball or even when scheduling the car pool for kids time.

More remarkably, human females readily adopt the perceived hierarchy of their spouses and make it absolute. Thus in the military, the women often form a much stronger and more rigid hierarchy than the men. For example, when organizing a softball team, the power structure will resemble that of their spouses while the men, as I said before, will adjust to ability--thus a private may end up being the captain of the male softball team. (Create a mixed sex team and the results can get very strange.)

My point is that IF there is any characteristics of Alpha/Beta/Gamma amongst humans, it's predominantly a function of the female sex, not the male sex.

(I have noticed that the alpha male notion has largely been adopted by narcissistic males in, I believe, an attempt to justify their behavior. Anecdotal point being that self-proclaimed alpha males are amongst the biggest assholes I've met and are far less stereotypically alpha than they believe.)

1:52 PM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

lead, follow or get out of the way. i'm not choosy...and i think that's a fairly common male trait.

the female tends to prefer to dither, as does the beta male.

most males will compete for the #1 spot, but most realise there are those better who will more likely achieve that position, whereas females will look for rules and regulations to hobble the chances of the true winner, as will some beta or pussified males.

4:48 PM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger Zorro said...

@Joe: Interesting observations, considering that most evolutionary psychologists agree that the female forms social networks while the male forms dominance hierarchies.

6:52 PM, September 15, 2011  
Blogger Eric said...

Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird is an alpha? I did not know that. Maybe I should rethink the whole issue, because the character didn't strike me as a poseur or imitator of others, but as a sincere and honest man. In contrast, most alphas seem awfully concerned about how others perceive them.

7:43 PM, September 15, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:51 AM, September 16, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"... considering that most evolutionary psychologists agree that the female forms social networks while the male forms dominance hierarchies."


And if the square peg of theory doesn't fit into the round hole of experience, you just get out a hammer and make it fit. I think the addition of intelligence, insight and expanded learning ability may make things different for humans vis-a-vis animals.

But I still really don't know what an "alpha" is. If it means confidence, self-reliance, leadership ability and natural optimism, maybe like Ronald Reagan, then I guess I'm on-board the alpha ship.

If, in contrast, it is a hot-head wanna-be tough guy who wants to present himself as winning every encounter and being able to beat up everyone in the world and get all the hot chicks (like some self-reporting "alphas" seem to suggest), then I think "alphas" are kind of silly and immature. That's all a big act, and I don't see the need for it.

2:08 AM, September 16, 2011  
Blogger Mario said...

I'll add an anecdote, not from my own experience but from my cousin's. This is something he shared with me.

My cousin joined the NYPD and became a sergeant at a young age. He retired after 20 years as a lieutenant, electing never to take the captain's test even though that would have represented more money and authority. Here was his rationale for remaining a lieutenant.

As a captain he would have had a lot more stress. However, as a lieutenant, to hear him tell it, just about anything that came across his desk he could either push down to a sergeant or push up to a captain. Lieutenant was what he considered a sweet spot. He still made plenty of money and retired with a nice pension, and he had a lot less stress at his job.

I'm thinking top dog is not a position that suits everybody and that being just below that, in some cases, might be the better strategy.

12:37 PM, September 16, 2011  
Blogger Fowl Ideas said...

Alpha males and their enablers...

8:47 AM, September 21, 2011  
Blogger Jenny said...

Joe and Don, awesome comments! Totally agree.

10:28 AM, September 29, 2011  

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