Dominance hierarchy

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A dominance hierarchy is an arrangement in groups of animals in which each member has a rank that everyone mostly agrees upon.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Social animals naturally compete for access to resources and mating opportunities which are limited in quantity and quality. Rather than fighting each time interests are in conflict, the animal of higher status gets to decide in a dominance hierarchy. This enables cooperation by reducing chances of aggression which may explain why such behaviors have evolved in many animals.

The highest ranking animal is called alpha, the next highest beta and so on. In many species, the alpha animals have some interest in maintaining alliances with lower ranking ones to avoid a beta/omega uprising.

Main article: Alpha, Beta, Omega

Dominance hierarchies are regulated by various inherited behaviors and abilities, e.g. the ability to remember and recognize one's own and other's ranks quickly and reliably, but they also include emotions and signals like envy, admiration, status drive, as well as signals of acceptance of lower status (withdrawal, blushing etc.). The event of someone's status being challenged typically arouses high interest and excitement from everyone in the dominance hierarchy.

Dominance hierarchies in humans[edit | edit source]

In most animals, rank is only decided by strength and health, but in others also by ornament. Humans have the most complex behavior of all animals, so a wide variety of things affect status such as competence, looks/ornament, strength, humor, socioeconomic status etc. Everyone is part of many status hierarchies at the same time.

Modern human status hierarchies are both larger and a lot more strict than the natural ones that one finds in hunter-gatherers.[1] For example status is explicitly represented e.g. by occupational prestige, income, educational qualifications etc. often within large organizational or economic systems. But many of the ancient ways of organizing smaller hierarchies exist nearly unchanged, e.g. the way people automatically respect tall and strong men and also good looking or otherwise dominant looking people.[2]

Men's hierarchies revolve more around the ability to extract resources, but also looks. Since men benefit from cooperation in resource extraction, their intrasexual competition is more productive and cooperative than women's. Women's hierarchies revolve around looks and a reputation of loyalty and related traits that men desire in women. Women's intrasexual competition mainly consists in destroying one another's reputation as well as gossiping about looks because women do not gain as much from cooperation as men.[3]

Humans have various behaviors that are involved in status negotiation and signaling, most of which occurs subconsciously.[4] Some of them are listed below.

Status signals in humans[edit | edit source]

Erectness of posture[edit | edit source]

The grade received after an exam influences erectness of posture (r = .6 to .8) and people intuitively infer dominance from erectness of posture. (Erectness before the exam does not affect the grade.)[5]

Confidence and force[edit | edit source]

Ten months old toddlers are able to infer dominance relations between simple geometric objects by observing relative confidence and forcefulness in the object's movements.[6] Since babies exhibit this behavior before socialization could have taken place and since one can observe similar behaviors throughout the animal kingdom, one can only conclude that such behaviors are innate rather than cultural.

Eye contact[edit | edit source]

Another simple dominance signal is eye contact. More dominant people keep eye contact when speaking, perhaps because they do not fear being judged as overconfident hence do not need to divert attention by looking away. Conversely, more dominant people also look away when someone is speaking, perhaps because they can afford to ignore less dominant people speaking.

This can be measured by the Visual Dominance Ratio defined as VDR = (% eye contact while speaking) / (% eye contact while listening). Dividing the two terms cancels out differences in individual propensity for holding eye contact and combines both in one number. Being more dominant, increases the denominator and decreases the nominator, hence increases the ratio.

Examples for VDR ratio[7]
A B VDR of A
ROTC officer ROTC cadet 1.06
ROTC cadet ROTC officer 0.61
psychology undergrad low-achieving high school senior 0.92
psychology undergrad college chemistry honor student 0.59
expert man (speaking about their own field) non-expert woman 0.98
expert man (speaking about the listener's field) expert woman 0.61
expert woman non-expert man 1.04
non-expert woman expert man 0.54

Smiling[edit | edit source]

Smiling signals positive emotion, benevolence, submission/compliance/appeasement and absence of threat. For example, people often smile in cases of excuses and embarrassment.[8] Dominant individuals smile less, perhaps to maintain the threat of their dominance and acts as a costly signal of their status in that they do not need to fear being judged not needing to signal compliance.

Higher levels of testosterone are associated with dominant behavior and less smiling.[9] Smaller (less dominant) football players displayed more smiling than larger (more dominant) football players (F(1.41, 38.10) = 111.80, partial η² = .81).[10]

Men smile less than women because they have higher status and women are more agreeable/compliant, presumably related to their more child-like, shorter and weaker stature.[11] In social encounters women smile 87%, but men only in 67% of the time. In portrait photographs from high school and university yearbooks, women do not smile 8% of the time, but men do not smile 41% of the time.[12]

Voice[edit | edit source]

Deep voices are generally perceived as more dominant.[citation needed] Low status individuals accommodated their voices to the voice pitch of their higher status partners.[13]

Similar to status differences in smiling, this provides evidence that lower status individuals use signals of appeasement to avoid conflict and accept their position in the hierarchy.

Looks[edit | edit source]

A single glance of 100 ms is sufficient to form reliable, consensual first impressions about social status (α = .90 to .95 for male status), suggesting that humans are hardwired to tell social status largely based on their looks.[14]

Height and muscularity[edit | edit source]

Taller and stronger people are perceived as more dominant and authoritative.[15][16]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1594205078
  2. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1948550617732388
  3. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2018.03.011
  4. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7877/6c171da1ecb4b308aaa0c95b1af6f11a1271.pdf
  5. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00992459
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21273490
  7. https://books.google.com/books/about/Subliminal.html?id=V7wt3Sqj_X8C
  8. Ekman, P.& Keltner, D (1997). The social function of "smile" and "laughter": Variations across primatespecies and societies. In U. C. Segerstraleand P. Molnar (Eds),Nonverbal communication: Where naturemeets culture, (pp. 27-46). Hillsdale, New Jersey:Lawrence Erlbaum.
  9. Dabbs, J. M. (1997). Testosterone, smiling, and facial appearance.Journal of NonverbalBehavior,Vol.21,pp.45-55
  10. http://doi.org/10.1177/147470491201000301
  11. LaFrance, M., Hecht, M. A.,andLevy Paluck, E. (2003). The contingentsmile: A meta-analysis of sexdifferences in smiling.PsychologicalBulletin,Vol.129,pp.305–334
  12. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00287672
  13. https://doi.org/10.1177/0190272517738215
  14. http://doi.org/10.1177/1948550617732388
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4342156/
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3344832/