The surprising science of alpha males | Frans de Waal


Well, I have known
many alpha males in my life, chimpanzee alpha males, and I’m going to talk
about what an alpha male is, because I think we can all learn
a lot from our close relatives where we have alpha males. And as an example, I want to give you
Amos, a male that I knew who was a young male
and he was alpha male, he was very popular, but he got sick and he lost his position because,
you know, chimpanzee males they can spot from a mile away
if you are weak and they went for him, and he lost his position,
and then he got sicker and sicker until at some point we had to isolate him. The group lived on a grassy island, and we had to isolate him in a cage, but we cracked open the cage
so that the rest of the chimps still had access to him. And what happened was most touching. Other chimps would bring food to him, they would bring wood wool to him, which is this thing that they use
to sleep in and build nests out of, and females would put
the wood wool behind his back. He was leaning heavily against the wall, and the way we do with pillows
to patients in a hospital, they were putting
that stuff behind his back. And I thought, this is the way
to go for an alpha male. He was loved and respected,
and everyone was taking care of him, and this is not always how it goes, because some males don’t end so well
when they lose their position. So Amos was an example
of a male who was liked as a leader, and I think the term alpha male,
if you look it up on the internet, you will find all these business books
that tell you how to be an alpha male, and what they mean
is how to beat up others and beat them over the head
and let them know that you are boss and don’t mess with me and so on. And basically an alpha male
for them is a bully. And I really don’t like
that kind of description, because I am actually partly responsible
for the term “alpha male” because I wrote this book
“Chimpanzee Politics,” which was recommended by Newt Gingrich
to freshmen congressmen. I don’t know what good it did,
but he recommended that book to them, and after that the term
“alpha male” became very popular. But I think it is used
in a mischaracterization. It’s used in a very superficial way that doesn’t relate
to what a real alpha male is. And so I’m here to explain what that is. The term itself goes back
actually much further. It goes back to the ’40s and ’50s,
research on wolves, and basically the definition
is very simple. The highest ranking male
is the alpha male. The highest ranking female
is the alpha female. Every primate group
has one alpha male, one alpha female, not more than that, there’s only one. And I will explain how that goes. So first, the body language. What you see here is two male chimpanzees
who are the same size, but one is walking upright,
has his hair up, has a big rock in his hand,
and he’s the alpha male. The other male is pant-grunting to him, is being submissive to him
and bowing for him, and that is the sort of ritual they need
to go through many times a day in order to have a stable relationship. I’ll show you a video from the field. What you will see here
is a female pant-grunting to an alpha male and you will see how that goes. The male is approaching, she grunts at him. (Chimpanzee grunts) He has all his hair up and he displays. I’m actually standing far too close. A chimpanzee is far stronger than I am, and I just was not very prudent,
this particular video. So what you saw him do is he was lifting himself up
and standing on two legs, and putting his arms out. That’s called the bipedal swagger. It’s a very common posture
in high-ranking males, and it’s very recognizable
because humans do this kind of stuff. (Laughter) Humans do this all the time. And what I really like
about this particular picture is the two old guys to the side. This is very chimpanzee. In chimpanzees, we have usually old males
who are over the hill, who cannot be alpha male
themselves anymore, but they start playing games
and forming coalitions, and behind the backs of others. And they become extremely influential, and you may actually have old males who are more influential
than the alpha male himself. Just as an example, the three males
that I used to work with most at the Dutch zoo long ago, where I worked, and the middle male here
is a 17-year-old alpha male. The male whom he is grooming
on the side is twice as old, and this old male has made him the leader. So you can imagine that that old male
has an enormous amount of power, because he has made
the alpha male alpha male. The male on the right is individually the strongest male. In captivity, you can test it out, and you can know that this male
has no trouble with either one. He has only trouble
with the combination of the two. And so the coalition formation
that goes on in chimpanzee society makes it much more complex than you think. It means, for example, that the smallest male in a group
can be the alpha male. You don’t need to be
the biggest and strongest male. The smallest male, if he has
the right friends and keeps them happy, or he has female support, he can be the alpha male. So the coalition system
makes everything complex, and I’m always waiting here in the US for the primaries,
the end of the primaries, because that’s a moment
where you need to demonstrate unity. Now let me first show you
how the unity is shown in chimpanzees. What you see here is two males on the left who are standing together. You also see the big
canine teeth that they have. And they’re standing together and they
demonstrate to the rest of the group, “We are together. We are a unit.” The males on the right
are walking together in synchrony. That’s another way of demonstrating
that you are together. And so demonstrating unity
is extremely important in a coalition system, and as I said, in the primaries
always I’m waiting for that moment because then you have
two members of the same party who have been fighting with each other, and they need to come
together at some moment. And it leads to very awkward situations. People who don’t like each other
need to embrace each other and stand together, and that’s absolutely essential
for the unity of the party, and if you don’t do that,
the party may fall apart. And so if it doesn’t go well,
like in this particular case — (Laughter) then the party is in deep doo-doo because they have not demonstrated unity. So that’s a very important part
of the coalition system, and that’s something that we share
between humans and chimpanzees. Now, how do you become an alpha male? First of all, you need to be
impressive and intimidating and demonstrate your vigor on occasion and show that you are very strong, and there’s all sorts
of ways of doing that. But other things that you need to do
is you need to be generous. So, for example,
males who go on a campaign to dethrone the leader, which may take two or three months where they’re testing
all the coalitions in the group, they also become extremely generous. They share food very easily with everyone. Or they start to tickle
the babies of the females. They’re normally, male chimpanzees,
not particularly interested in infants, but when they are campaigning like that, they get very interested in infants
and they tickle them, and they try to curry favor
with the females. (Laughter) So in humans, of course, I am always intrigued
by these men who are candidates and hold babies up like this. This is not particularly
something that babies like — (Laughter) but since it is a signal
to the rest of the world, they need to hold them in the air. And I was really intrigued by, when we had a female candidate
in the last election, the way she held babies
was more like this, which is what babies really like. But she of course
didn’t need to send the message that she could hold a baby
without dropping it, which was what the man was doing. So this is a very common tactic, and male chimpanzees, they spend a lot of time
currying favor with all sorts of parties when they are campaigning. Now, what are the privileges and the costs of being an alpha male? The biggest privilege is females. Food is really irrelevant. Male chimpanzees
can go a week without food if there’s a female in estrus
and they’re sexually interested in her. Food is secondary to sex. And so the male chimpanzees — and we evolutionary biologists, of course,
we have an explanation for this, is that sex leads to reproduction, and reproductive success
is the measure of evolution. That’s how everything evolves. And so if males can enhance
their reproductive success by being high ranking, you get automatically the ambition
to be high ranking in the males. So that’s the privilege. The costs, one cost is of course that you need to keep your partners happy. So if you come to power
with the support of an old male, you need to let that old male
mate with females. If you don’t do that,
that old male is going to get mad at you, and you’re going to lose him as a partner. So there’s a transaction going on. If you become alpha male this way,
you need to keep your partners happy. And so that’s one of the costs. The second cost is that
everyone wants your position. Alpha male position
is a very important position, and everyone wants to take it from you, and so you constantly
have to watch your back. You have to be extremely vigilant. For example, you have to
disrupt the coalitions of others and that’s what male
chimpanzees do quite a bit. Divide and rule strategies, they have. And so that’s a very stressful situation,
and we actually have data on this. The data comes from the field, from baboons not chimpanzees in this case, where they did fecal samples
on the baboons and they analyzed them
for glucocorticoids. And what you see here is a graph where you see that the lower ranking
the male baboon is, the higher is his cortisol level in the feces, but the alpha male, as you see, has just as high a level
as the lowest-ranking males, and so you may think that being alpha male
is nice and dandy and is wonderful, but it’s actually
a very stressful position, and we can demonstrate
that physiologically. Now, what are the obligations? And here, for me,
it gets really interesting, and it deviates very much
from your typical image of the alpha male. The alpha male
has two sorts of obligations. One is to keep the peace in the group. We call that the control role, to control fights in the group, and the second is to be the most empathic, the consoler in chief, basically,
of the nation, so to speak. So first of all, keeping the peace. This is a male who stops a fight
between two females. Two females on the left and the right have been screaming and yelling
at each other over food, because food is very
important for the females, and so he stops the fight between them
and stands between them like this. And it’s very interesting to me
that alpha males, when they do this, they become impartial. They don’t support their mom
or their best buddy. No, no, they stop fights, and they come up
for the underdog in general. And this makes them
extremely popular in the group, because they provide security for the lowest-ranking
members of the group. And so they become impartial, which is an unusual condition
for a chimpanzee to be in, because they’re usually
very fond of their friends and so on, and these alpha males
who are good at this, they can be very effective
at keeping the peace in the group. And the second thing they do
is they show empathy for others. Now, I do an enormous amount
of research on empathy, and I don’t have time to go into it, but empathy is nowadays a topic
that we study in rodents and dogs and elephants and primates, all sorts of animals. And what you see here is two bonobos. The one in front has been beaten up in a fight. The one in the back puts
her arms around her and consoles her. This is also actually how we measure
empathy in young children, by looking at how they respond
to distressed individuals. And high-ranking males,
they do a lot of this. High-ranking males provide an enormous
amount of comfort in the group, and they go to places
where there are earthquakes or hurricanes and they provide comfort. The pope does this.
The presidents do this. All the leaders in the world
have to do this job. The queen does it and so on. They all have to do this job, so providing consolation,
and that’s a very important task. And males who are good at these two, keeping the peace and providing comfort, they become extremely popular leaders, and there’s actually
some self-interest involved in it. They don’t do it just for the group, because it also stabilizes their position. The more popular
a male becomes as alpha male and the more the rest of them
respects them and looks up to them, the better their position is defended in case it’s going to be
challenged by somebody else, because then, of course, the whole group
is going to support that male because they want to keep
a leader who is good for them. So the group is usually very supportive
of males who are good leaders, and it’s not supportive at all of bullies. And when bullies lose their position, they may end up
in a very bad situation there. This is data actually
on the consolation behavior. This is data on consolation
in chimpanzees, and you see for the medium-
and low-ranking individuals, the females do more of it than the males. This is basically the whole community. And this is true for all
the mammal studies on empathy is that females
have more of it than males. But look at the alpha male. The alpha male does
far more than anybody else. And so that’s the data on alpha males
being the consoler in chief, basically. The last thing I want to say
is something about alpha females. This is a picture of Mama,
the alpha female in the Arnhem zoo where I used to work, who is now all over the internet, I think a hundred million
clicks at the moment, for a video of her dying at the age of 59, which happened last year. And Mama was an absolute
centrum of the group. So she was not physically capable
of dominating the males. She ranked below the males,
but she was the center of the community, and if there was big trouble
in the community, everyone would end up in the arms of Mama. And so she was a very important figure. And so I don’t want to minimize
the position of alpha females in the chimpanzee group. And then we have a species
that is equally close to us as the chimpanzee, the bonobo. We often forget about the bonobo,
but the bonobos have a matriarchal society and the alpha individual
is a female, generally. Generally, it’s a female
who is at the top of the community, and we know much less
about how this is done and how they get to that position,
and what they do with it, because we know much less
about bonobos in general. But I do want to emphasize that the alpha in a group
doesn’t need to be a male, and that actually in one
of our close relatives, it is a female. So the message I want to leave you with is that if you are looking
at men in our society who are the boss of, let’s say, a family or a business
or Washington or whatever, you call them alpha male, you should not insult chimpanzees by using the wrong label. (Laughter) You should not call a bully an alpha male. Someone who is big and strong
and intimidates and insults everyone is not necessarily an alpha male. An alpha male has all sorts of qualities, and I have seen bully
alpha males in chimpanzees, they do occur, but most of the ones that we have have leadership capacities and are integrated in their community, and, like Amos at the end, they are loved and respected, and so it’s a very different situation
than you may think. And I thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The surprising science of alpha males | Frans de Waal”

  1. Yeah, is my man Alpha or Spoiled ? He says I'm spoiled, no… I'm Alpha. As Sting said: I will turn your flesh to alabaster when you find your servant is your master. Lol! He's Alpha I'm his Queen "B"

  2. Dude, at 7:37 he basically called Barack Obama a dumb primitive monkey ape chimp cuz he's black and black people are less evolved. That's basically what he just said. And I don't want to jump to conclusions but if he actually thinks like that then I think he might be racist. That's kind of racism ya know. Maybe he was just calling him an ape to get views from right wingers though. At least he didn't call him the N word tho. Either way, I bet he wears a MAGA hat.

  3. This guy is obviously not an alpha Male, and he made up this entire "research" to justify the fact of him being a submissive beta

  4. Well I guess trump is on his way out. He is a bully and incapable of empathy. The idea of trump picking up a baby is grotesque.

  5. Interesting Subliminal Programming Here. The agenda is clear. Also – try and suggest videos a little older like the rest of the algorithm does.. when you have older videos that surround this one new video in my feed it is very easy to see whats going on.

  6. There was a 1973 business bestseller titled Winning Through Intimidation that carried forward the business model called Social Darwinism, which fabricated a pseudscientific "theory" that interpreted survival of the fittest to mean survival of the least ethical. Gingrich helped carry that principle into politics and consolidate corporate ownership of government by interpreting "alpha male" to mean a political bully. Social Darwinism had nothing to do with Darwin and Gingrich's alpha male had a pretty dubious relationship with alpha males in nature.

  7. i kinda feel good about myself being so different than animal nature would dictate primate behavior follow. i'm a complete loser beta type dude who places extreme priority on compassion, kindness, empathy, love, and altruism (for those in need) above all other prerogatives. i also have that complex (i forget the pop slang name for it) where you get very defensive when it comes to anyone who is marginalized by popular opinion; this is one of the only times my intellect comes out in a immediately full assertive discourse to influence the situation i'm seeing in favor of the underdog… though, incidentally, to get low brow for a moment, i do always wonder if i would've had a bigger phallic endowment if i behaved all alpha… i remember reading that study regarding alphas at some point and wishing i had a giant impressive weapon of destructive prowess… you're welcome for the disgusting candor.

  8. Great video!! I believe the idea of an "Alpha Male" is very confused by the idea of being a "Macho Man".. The Macho Man is just a fake alpha with nothing behind them.

  9. Jordan b Peterson is wondering why males ain’t going to college and uni? everything is sugar coated now at these places and we can get what we want for free on YouTube

  10. Alpha is don’t a bully. Alpha don’t need to point to other alpha etc. I’ve felt alpha all my life but in a way I’ll use to protect me and others around me

  11. There are no alpha males. Only people who want to be. And they get quite embarrassed when they suspect you see through them. If they don't get embarrassed, they're too stupid to get away with the pretence for long anyway. As for myself, I haven't a clue whether I'm alpha or not, but I generally do okay.

  12. This guy is obviously a beta male, trying to explain the nature of an alpha male. The reason why beta males exist, is because they don't understand what being alpha is. This video is solid evidence of that.

  13. It's very interesting presentation…

    But I want to call-out may be a leftist-feminist-SJWish bias of the presenter I observed on the talk. I repeat, "may be", because I don't anything about the presenter, other than his presentation.

    1. He mentioned that alpha male he isolated after he lost position was cared for and that's how alpha males should end their lives, or something like that. Fact of the matter is that in nature (without human intervention) that is a luxury of thought which alpha – aiming males cannot afford. So basically if they are thrown put of position they are doomed. Females probably cared for that sick alpha, because human intervention (isolation) gave that alpha some chance to be alpha again, at least in the females view.

    2. How did he knew children don't like to held up in air by alpha male and more comfortable being held by women leaders on the side. That is typical leftist-feminist-SJWish thought process in action.

    3. His statements regarding the old female and not demeaning the position of alpha females says a lot without he explaining what is alpha females' behaviours.

    4. Also his ending note about bullies and not insulting chimps is indicative how troubled he is with bully.

    I do agree with a lot of what he presented. And actually being alpha male is a fine balancing act and much risky.

    Also the empathy graph which showed low empathy score for alpha female & higher empathy score for below ranking females reveals a lot more about female psychology than what was not shared.

    And the impartiality of alpha males in managing a fight is a trait that needs further emphasis.

  14. The alpha is the leader of a family group consisting of at least one female and his young. You are not a man until you have a wife and children.

  15. Dis here guy has bad political taste and sloppy clothing. Who lectures in shirtsleeves and wrinkled pants?
    Oh, ya . . . I remember now . . . a foreign beta-male liberal.

  16. The alpha male concept is a joke, there are no ‚alpha males‘, there are just insecure people who think becoming an ‚alpha male‘ will be the solution for them.

  17. So an alpha just means the kind of person who likes to take charge? The kid that other kids would follow around on the playground as they decide what game they’ll play that day.

  18. Why does Fran's the fucktard think the Republicans are to be laughed at? Oh wait, I understand. It's because he will end up deleted from YouTube if he laughs at the left.

  19. Yes the obvious outsider is the strong male…a threat to all. So you final word is a salvo against your superior calling them bully even though they have done nothing.

  20. There are no high ranking males in bonobo chimps, because they live a life of abundance and the society has become matriarchal not surprising enough they are dying out because of no leadership. Other groups of chimps have to survive without that abundance, which is why there are alphas in those groups and they are doing better than bonobos, stop lying to your audience for political jabs.

  21. This was very interesting and enlighting to me. I thought alpha males were basically the strongest individuals of their groups and they just imposed their will by force. Now I see they're actually leaders, and of course a leader is much more than that: he loves and cares their peers and seeks the well being of his group.

    Also, seeing the research about the level of stress, and the many responsibilities, duties and threats an alpha has to face, in my opinion the best position in a group is actually the 'second' in charge. Almost as many benefits as the alpha but without most of their cons.

  22. From this I've learned more about Alpha energy , that I've learned from 100 speaches of Jordan Peterson…

  23. Peacekeeper is the most powerful because it means he can get opposing sides to respect or fear him enough to override their animal instincts.

  24. Gravity. Another trait is gravity. Individuals in groups are drawn to alphas and often times over-compliment them in group settings

  25. Alpha males… 😂😂😂 Makes me laugh every time I hear it because there are so many human men that strive for that “status – the status of an APE. 🤣🤣🤣

    And they ALL have tiny dicks and something to prove.

  26. Isn't it only cherry peaking of pieces of evidence on similarities between human and champs? Human came from dictatorship to what is known today as democracy. Showing only similarities can be misleading. Let's say 100 years from now we may compare the two again, and this time stress other then emerged similarities which might or might not be same as what we observe today. Will it then mean Champs and human are similar? What is the role of innovations in social life and governance methods we made? I don't think we are that close to animals and by definition, we should be more distant by time. Pointing out the similarities does not prove we are same. It only works to amaze people and amuse them for a short period of time.

  27. Woah! Slow down Frans, you are not responsible for the popularity of the term 'alpha male', not by a long shot! It's popularity came from the world of canines; wolves, dogs etc. Ironically, a true alpha in the world of canines is reserved and shy but very intelligent. People confuse the 'beta' animal who is confident and feisty for the term alpha. The alpha's job is to survive and breed whereas the beta's job is to be the enforcer within the group, obviously what people mean when they say 'alpha' when should say 'beta'.

  28. I doubt he read a single one of the books on 'How To Become an Alpha Male,' if they exist. It sounds like he's assuming they exist, and then assuming what they'd be about if they did exist, and that they'd be mostly saying something incorrect.
    If anyone who reads this has ever actually read a modern book(not Machiavelli's "The Prince") teaching people to be a bully – under the euphemism 'alpha male' – do let me know. Maybe they're out there.
    But I spend a lot of time on the internet learning about topics related to human nature, often from such 'dark web' sources as YouTube content creators, and the 'alpha male' concept comes up all the time. And nobody seems to think it means being a bully. Granted, there's scant mention 'consoling' and 'empathy'; but it's used usually in reference to a personality of confidence, charisma, leadership, assertiveness, conscientiousness, attractiveness. These traits are not 'bullying.'
    It irks me when people assume that, because they know something about something, everybody else out there – the ignorant buffoon masses of 'deplorables' – must certainly have it almost all wrong… without bothering to check.

  29. OMG THANK YOU FOR USING BUSH, CHENEY AND RUMS IN THIS VIDEO!!! HAHAHAHAHA!!! YOU PICKED THE PERFECT PEOPLE FOR THE HUMAN ALPHA EXAMPLE!!! BECAUSE THEY REALLY ARE A BUNCH OF WAR MONGERS!!!

  30. Most polititions arnt alpha .Bush Definatly ain't😂😂😂.Putin is a proper alpha , USAs Orange face is to an extent.Most western countries have puppets installed by the real power to create the image of democracy

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