A dominance hierarchy is an arrangement in a group of animals in which each member has a rank or status that everyone mostly agrees on. Members of higher rank are admitted more power and resources.
Letters from the Greek alphabet are used to refer to different ranks in animal hierarchies. Alphas are the most dominant animals, followed by betas, followed by gammas, and so on. Omegas are the least dominant animals, often socially excluded and depressed. For simplicity, all non-alpha animals are often called betas. Dominance does not necessarily mean aggression, but simply superiority.
Aggressive dominance is linked to a fast life history strategy, while non-aggressive dominance can be regarded as a slow life history strategy. Human dominance hierarchies tend toward the latter due to neoteny and a high prevalence of arranged marriage rather than free mate choice which have likely resulted from self-domestication.
Manosphere[edit | edit source]
The idea of an overall, necessary, mostly fixed, and possibly genetic sociosexual hierarchy in humans has been mainly promoted seriously by various traditionalists such as Vox Day and Jordan Peterson and thus has had influence on the manosphere as traditionalists entered the manosphere in the 2010s. The modern mainstream concept of a genetic, inevitable, necessary, or extremely fixed sociosexual hierarchy was also inspired by more mainstream media/literature and pick-up-artistry which was in turn inspired by scientist David Mech's concept of an 'alpha wolf', which David later retracted. While small hierarchies at a local level are plausibly rooted in human evolutionary past, the immensely large hierarchies of modern nation states and large cooperation are more alienated from the natural setting. While redpillers and dating coaches etc. focus on dominance signaling at the local scale, Jordan Peterson attempts to justify the hierarchy for entire nation states, e.g. by the overall incentive structure it provides.
Self-described incels on the dominance hierarchy[edit | edit source]
Self-described incels mainly see ranks in terms of sexual status and looks because incels think these play a widely underappreciated role for social acceptance. Incels use their own terminology to refer to different ranks of each sex: Chad, Normie, Virgin, Stacy and Becky. The female virgin is not a low ranking female because virginity is only detrimental to men, and actually beneficial to women.
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.
Dominance hierarchies are regulated by various innate abilities, emotions and behaviors, for example the ability to remember and recognize one's own and other's ranks quickly and reliably, as well as emotions like status drive (envy, admiration), signaling behaviors of high rank (confidence, intimidation) and signals of acceptance of lower rank (withdrawal, submission, blushing, smiling, depression and anxiety). Humans who pretend to have higher rank than they deserve are put into their place, or at least challenged. For this reason, confidence is a hard-to-fake signal of high status. The event of someone's status being challenged arouses high interest and excitement from everyone in the group. This partly explains why watching sports is exciting.
In many species, the alpha animals have some interest in maintaining alliances with lower ranking ones to avoid a beta/omega uprising.
Redpillers and PUAs focus on dominance in game and confidence. Blackpillers and incels rather focus on dominance in looks, financial capital and other factors that are largely predetermined and cannot be fixed with one weird trick. Redpillers and bluepillers tend to recommend to "be more confident", "take a shower" and "stand upright" to improve one's dating success, but blackpillers regard faking confidence as a fleeting solution at best, and as unnatural especially for introverted, autistic, ugly and other omega males who lack real status or significance on which they could base their confidence on, also fearing bullying for appearing overconfident and awkward.
Human dominance hierarchies[edit | edit source]
In many animals, rank is not only decided by strength and health, but also by ornament or courtship display. Humans have the most complex behavior of all animals and a wide variety of things determine status such as competence, looks/ornament, strength/intimidation, humor, power, prestige and resources. Everyone is part of many status hierarchies at the same time, which are either formal or informal.
Modern human status hierarchies are larger, more anonymous and a lot more formal than the natural ones in hunter-gatherers. In modern hierarchies, status is regulated by laws and represented "on paper" e.g. by income, occupational status and educational qualifications, often within large organizational or economic systems, possibly spanning the entire world. But much 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 and dominant looking men and individuals who have achieved a high level of competence. Large formal hierarchies, such as economic hierarchies are not as directly tied to emotional, physiological and mental states (confidence vs anxiety) as informal hierarchies e.g. among coworkers, classmates or social circles.
Both men and women have a hierarchy, but the criteria and mechanisms that determine them are very different except for the importance of beauty. Women are much more gossipy and manipulative, and compete more by looks and a (sexually) faithful reputation. Men are more cooperative and concerned with resource extraction. 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 sexual faithfulness 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.
Status signals in humans[edit | edit source]
Erectness of posture[edit | edit source]
More dominant individuals have a more erect posture. For example, the grade received after an exam predicts changes in erectness of posture (r = 0.6 to 0.8) and people intuitively infer dominance from erectness of posture. Erectness before the exam, however, does not affect the grade, hence dominance is not caused by erectness of posture, but dominance leads to a change in posture.
Confidence[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. 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.
Subtle poses like nods, arms behind head, manspreading, elevation, relaxation and certain facial expressions are also signals of confidence and status. More confident/dominant men also initiate more hand shaking and engage more in invasive touching. These kinds of observations underlie the virgin vs. Chad meme (see also gait). Showing skin is a dominance signal, especially regarding looks, for both men and women, as it exposes skin smoothness and muscle tone to the judgement of others and hence signals confidence in one's expectation to receive positive judgements.
Shyness[edit | edit source]
Shyness is fundamentally an expression of low status as it is strongly (inversely) related to confidence. The entire notion of love-shyness can be seen as a confusion of the importance of social status with a narrow condition in matters of sexuality, offering questionable memes like trauma as dubious explanation.
Bravery and stoicism[edit | edit source]
Bravery and war heroism appear to be male-specific dominance signals. Also stoicism, i.e. the downplaying of hardship and disease is a way to maintain dominance, and women have possibly selected men to have this trait, as men who showed weakness were more likely discarded by them.
Desperation and trying hard[edit | edit source]
Showing despair and trying too hard are a reliable signal of low status and weakness and it is the opposite of coolness. By hiding hardship men can maintain their status and hence access to females. Analyzing and studying social interactions may be perceived as a low status activity because it may imply that one cannot get by without it due to some flaw (so one needs to "try hard"). Complaining about unfairness also tends to signal low status and desperation, which is why few men are MRAs.
One of the strongest signals of despair, dependence and neediness is crying which babies use to signal neediness and reduce the risk of a reduction or withdrawal of parental care.
Eye contact and attention[edit | edit source]
Another simple aspect of dominance signaling is gaze and attention. One study found that people pay more attention to photos of men with high status cues (attire in this case). Interestingly, neither men or women pay more attention to women with such high status cues.
More dominant individuals are more attended to and they more likely ignore others. This is particularly noticeable during speaking and here more dominant women get more attention too. More dominant people tend to look away more when someone is speaking, perhaps because they can afford to ignore less dominant people speaking, which is related to the effect in the previous study about the high status cues. People ignore low status individuals if they are not picking at them. More dominant people also 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.
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.
|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|
Voice[edit | edit source]
In one study, low status individuals accommodated their voices to the voice pitch of their higher status partners in an experiment. 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.
Smiling[edit | edit source]
Even though showing teeth is a signal of threat in most animals, in various higher primates including humans, the display of teeth with certain additional facial expressions (lifted corners of the mouth in case of humans) has evolved to negate the signal of threat, indicating absence of threat and by extension, it signals positive emotion, benevolence, submission, compliance, appeasement etc. It also may have evolved as necessity for babies to signal all is good.
Low status individuals smile more, e.g. people often smile in cases of excuses and embarrassment as signal of appeasement. Dominant individuals smile less, perhaps to maintain the threat of their dominance and because it acts as a costly signal of their status in that they do not need to fear being judged nor needing to signal compliance.
Higher levels of testosterone are associated with dominant behavior and less smiling. Also, smaller (less dominant) football players displayed more smiling than larger (more dominant) football players (F(1.41, 38.10) = 111.80, partial η² = .81).
Men smile less than women because men have higher status and women are more low status, agreeable and compliant, presumably related to women's more child-like, shorter and weaker stature. 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.
Laughing[edit | edit source]
Laughing seems to have multiple functions most of which overlap with the function of smiling. Laughing is used to signal absence of threat. Absence of threat can mean that oneself is not a threat, i.e. a low status signal.
Laughing can act as a signal of admitting someone more (intellectual) status, e.g. by laughing about people's jokes. People are very conservative about whose jokes they laugh about because admitting someone higher status means lowering one's own reproductive success. People also laugh about jokes to signal they understood it, i.e. to assert status themselves.
People might subconsciously laugh more about high status individual's jokes as appeasement in hope for increasing one's social capital. For example, people more often laugh about jokes told by a more attractive man and attractiveness is moderately related to status.
Since laughing can be loud it is a dominance signal because men can intimidate each other by loudness. There is e.g. the hearty laugh, which is excessively low in pitch, and perceived as incredibly dominant and may largely be motivated by showing off one's clarity, depth and loudness of voice which men use as means of intimidation, but which is likely also under aesthetic sexual selection. Very related to this there is the evil laugh which signals indifference to someone's suffering/low status (schadenfreude) and hence signals superiority. Laughing in solitude is hence a pretty meaningless activity, being fundamentally a social signal.
Less dominant people likely also accommodate their laughter to the voice pitch and style of their higher status partners and of the group, as it is the case with voice in general.
Blushing[edit | edit source]
Just like smiling and looking away, blushing appears to signal submission/compliance/appeasement, with a wish not to receive more attention and judgement, basically acceptance of low status.
Blushing can also be caused by anger though (adrenaline rush causing high blood pressure), as well as by sexual arousal (also due to increased blood pressure), both of which the fight or flight response (historically sex was possibly quite dangerous and might have involved fending contending males who overheard the woman's moaning and mating calls, who knows).
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, i.e. very high inter-rater agreement), suggesting that humans are hardwired to tell social status largely based on their looks. Inherited from primate ancestors, broader faces with a wider jaw and smaller ratio of eye size to face size and larger noses are also perceived as more dominant as these are gerontomorphic (i.e. non-neotoneous) and masculine features. Baby-faced round, soft and large-eyed, small-nosed faces are perceived as less dominant (weak and submissive).
Competence and intelligence[edit | edit source]
Competence and intelligence are also a way of intimidating, though there is likely multiplicative utility with looks. Intelligence is often signaled by humor which is things that need some amount of filling the blank, but can be fluently processed yet aren't boring. Laughing is used to pay respect (i.e. admit someone higher intellectual status), but also to signal that one was able to process it oneself (thereby also displaying dominance in intellect). As in other status domains, people are very conservative in whom they admit higher status as this entails reduced reproductive success for oneself, so people rarely laugh e.g. at jokes made by someone of lower status. Appeasing to someone of high status can on the other hand increase reproductive success as it may admit access to more resources.
There is evidence that, historically, men have heavily competed in competence hierarchies, e.g. men performed a much more diverse range of technological tasks in forager societies and often tasks that were exclusively performed by men, whereas women focused on tasks near home and reconcilable with childcare.
Bodily size and bulkiness[edit | edit source]
Humans appear to have developed a general representation of rank as a magnitude grounded in bodily size and strength. Taller and bulkier humans are perceived as more dominant and authoritative. Related signs of dominance are rapid gait, firm and strong stances, confident gesturing, as well as clothing or hair styles that create a bulkier appearance. Bulky appearance is not perfectly correlated with actual strength, so it is conceivable human males have evolved bulky appearance to some extent merely as ornament to intimidate other males.
Material status[edit | edit source]
In particular, men who display cues of wealth are regarded as more attractive and higher status by women. As such, expensive cars, costly world travels etc. act as status symbols, enabling access to sex and social contacts (social resources). Women engage in material status signaling too, mainly to appear favorable among close female friends and to get access to Chad's social circles.
It has been suggested that the importance of men's signaling by such cues for sexual success is one factor preventing male engagement in low-consumption lifestyles. The main factor is probably rather the Prisoner's dilemma that retreating tends to result in being taken advantage of by others who don't.
Violence[edit | edit source]
Raw violence is also a means of displaying dominance, in humans less so than in other animals.
Dominance ranks in human males[edit | edit source]
Alpha males[edit | edit source]
One can become an alpha by a dominance strategy (by aggression and intimidation), by a prestige strategy (by skill and reputation), or simply by good looks, muscularity and tallness. Some alphas are tyrannical, but others are genuinely good people. Life is good for them, so they have little to gain from competitiveness having already achieved easy access to high quality females. Such alphas can rather strengthen their status by maintaining alliances with betas and avoiding beta male aggression against them. Examples for human alphas include: A fortune 500 CEO who marries a female underwear model, a rockstar with groupies, kings, gang leaders, almost any popular athlete, an unemployed good-looking thug who has women be his provider. Not all alphas are Chads, for example Adolf Hitler was not excessively good looking, but very dominant.
Beta males[edit | edit source]
Beta males are moderately sexually successful and typically followers. They are usually subservient to alphas. Traditionally, they usually exchange loyalty to alphas in exchange for alphas not hoarding all the females. However, modern day betas tend to not (vocally) care much about getting laid nor who is ruling them. Beta is a near synonym for "normie" or, "average male". They generally have to work to bribe women with resource/job security, unlike alphas.
Omega males[edit | edit source]
Males who are totally unsuccessful with women are Omega males. They are often socially excluded and hence never get laid.
Criticism[edit | edit source]
There have been various criticisms of an overall dominance hierarchy in humans, with critics saying applying such animalistic concepts to humans is mostly or entirely pseudo-science.
Social domain variance and political construction[edit | edit source]
However, while critics say there is nothing pseudo-scientific or non-obvious about the fact that men differ in their social, romantic and material success, critics say that the platonic ideal of an 'alpha' is dubious due to the sheer number of social domains in which humans can or do engage in their lives, unlike less intelligent animals. For example, a D&D champ may be the alpha in a board game shop, but not in the lacrosse field. Critics may have a hard time denying, however, that there exist people who exert control over entire populations, as well as those who are submissive to nearly everyone, due to their social status. Critics of dominance hierarchy theory often point to these positions as temporary social constructions, and not as fixed or genetic as dominance hierarchy theorists often imply.
Critics of social dominance hierarchy theory may say that something like a sports star hogging dozens of women by virtue of male competition is more of a self-fulfilling prophesy in a social construction, and is not inevitable about humans, as many countries lack the degree of celebrity culture necessary for this to happen to the degree that it does in certain countries, or in times of resource scarcity.
Adam Conover[edit | edit source]
U.S. comedian and TV host Adam Conover famously claimed "alpha males do not exist" and insinuated that the notion of an alpha male wasn't referenced in academia. The term "alpha" is indeed used very sporadically in academia to genuinely describe humans, not just non-human animals. High-ranking males, such as kings or other leaders have been considered as alpha males in academic publications, as well as males with high sexual success. Sometimes alpha traits refer to traits associated with human male sexual success such as masculinity and extroversion.
David Mech "Alpha wolf" retraction[edit | edit source]
While the notion of a human alpha male has a sporadic amount of academia associated, the concept is much more rooted in PUA figures such as RooshV and Vox Day, making it dubious to those who think PUAs are wrong. Critics of dominance hierarchy theory in humans point usually point to the person who coined the term, "Alpha", scientist David Mech, who said that his concept of an, "alpha wolf", was inaccurate due to further research and analysis. David later stated the concept he created did not describe the empirical phenomena he was attempting to describe.
David insists that "alpha wolves" didn't actually become dominant over men outside their 'pack', but that their dominance was only or mainly familial and born through non-competitive mating. He also said that the few wolves who would bear more offspring than others within a pack could more accurately be called 'dominant breeder' rather than 'alpha', as 'alpha' implies that male competition determined reproductive success, which he said was not accurate in wolves.
Incel criticism[edit | edit source]
Some have argued that the Alpha/Beta/Omega hierarchy is illegitimate, in that it bases sexual success too much upon behavior and status instead of looks. Lookism theorists suggest using the Slayer/Incel hierarchy instead. Still the terminology could as well be used for social hierarchies that are primarily based on looks.
The terms status, dominance, prestige, reputation, rank, popularity are all highly related. Some authors use dominance and status synonymously, other's don't. All of these terms involve the evaluation by others and likely all of them tie into innate human emotions and behaviors that regulate human hierarchies. PUAs often use the term sexual market value in place of status. In the former PuaHate and SlutHate communities, the term "DOM" is usually used to describe a masculine face, but it also could refer to a large build or social dominance.
References[edit | edit source]
- Scientist David Mech addresses readers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNtFgdwTsbU
- Weisfeld. 1982. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00992459
- Burgoon and Hooble, Cashdan, Schwartz et al.., as cited in Dunbar and Burgoon, 2005
- Burgoon, Buller, Hale and Deturck, (as cited in Dunbar and Burgoon, 2005)
- Carney, Hall, and LeBeau (2005)
- S G Brown. 2018. Female choice and male stoicism. [Abstract]
- Ekman, P.& Keltner, D (1997). The social function of "smile" and "laughter": Variations across primate species and societies. In U. C. Segerstrale and P. Molnar (Eds), Nonverbal communication: Where nature meets culture, (pp. 27-46). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Dabbs, J. M. (1997). Testosterone, smiling, and facial appearance.Journal of NonverbalBehavior,Vol.21,pp.45-55
- LaFrance, M., Hecht, M. A.,andLevy Paluck, E. (2003). The contingentsmile: A meta-analysis of sexdifferences in smiling.PsychologicalBulletin,Vol.129,pp.305–334
- Adam Ruins Everything - Alpha Males Do Not Exist | truTV. 953,882 views (as of Fri 25 2019), Aug 4, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ti86veZBjU
- Scientist David Mech addresses readers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNtFgdwTsbU