Debunk-Tuesday – Alpha As Fuck

in psychology •  7 months ago

Every Tuesday I am going to address one specific myth, urban legend, conspiracy theory or piece of pseudo-science. This time the guys among my readers have to be particularly strong: if you ever considered yourself as an “alpha male”, you might not like what science can tell you about that.

I’m alpha, obey me

I always considered myself as being AAF – alpha as fuck (this is a totally made up abbreviation, but as an alpha, I can create new ones whenever the fuck I want to). Although my physical appearance is not the most formidable one (Dwayne Johnson’s biceps is still a (little) bit larger than mine), I compensate this with being an incredibly arrogant, selfish prick. Most of the time. Unless I lie crying in the arms of my girlfriend, because somebody was mean to me on the internet and I wasn’t able to handle it. But 99,9% of my time I will be straight up with you, point out every single one of your mistakes (since I have none) and take up every confrontation there is. And if there is none, I am sure as hell going to create one. Because that is what alpha males do. We are born leaders, dominant, aggressive, loud, rude, arrogant and way beyond common narcissism.

There is but one, small problem with this kind of behaviour and thinking: the very idea it’s based on is completely bullshit. You are not AAF, the guy who stole your former girlfriend is not and even I have to admit, that I’m probably not one of the few Übermenschs (1) (Friedrich, I’m SO sorry to disappoint you – again!), who I long thought to be.
Oh, well, what a time to be alive.

But how did this happen? Why is the term of the alpha male considered common knowledge among so many people? Did really no one ever question this concept at all? Luckily, we can take a look into the history of this term and how much truth there is to it.

Don’t be that guy


The whole idea of alpha males is mainly based on the research of L. David Mech (2) (although the term has already been used by Rudolf Schenkel in 1947), who made this idea available for a larger audience with his book The Wolf (3) in 1970. There it seemed, that one wolf made the leading decisions for the whole pack. It was described as the most dominant, strongest and therefore powerful among all the other wolves of the pack, which provided it with the ability to lead. The problem with this book was, that its ideas were based on observations of captive and unrelated wolves, thus not a good representation of wolf behaviour in a natural environment. As the good scientist he was, Mech realized his mistake a few years later and published a study in which he rejected the term of an alpha male. He stated, that the typical wolf pack should be viewed as a family with dominance being quite an unusual display of power. Only when allocating food to their offspring, the parents were going to be more dominant to ensure the youngest ones obtain enough as well. Submission was therefore primarily a food-begging gesture to get a larger piece but had not much to do with a hierarchy system (4).

You might argue now, that even if there is no supporting evidence for alphas among wolves anymore, this does not have to apply for primates (thus humans) as well. I do like critical thinking, but I have to disappoint you again. In fact, Foster et al. (2009) (5) did some research regarding this matter. They observed behaviour of chimpanzees and how it affected their dominance compared to other group members, which placed them on top of the hierarchy. Wait, what? Now there are dominance and hierarchy? Sure, but to get to the top, the observed chimps used strategies, we would usually not label as alpha-male-like. In fact, most of them lacked raw physical strength, but in order to compensate it, they invested considerably more time to groom with other males, regardless of their ranks. Even after the observed males achieved their status as alpha males, they continued their former grooming patterns, likely to foster their position. It turns out, that being the nice guy can provide you with quite some opportunities and even get you to the top of the food chain.

“Haha! But I know, chimps are not our closest relatives, so their behaviour is not so similar to ours!”
Well, yeah. You are right. Our closest genetic relatives are bonobos. Which live in a matriarchal society. Do you really want me to go there, big guy? Thought so.
Although Mech revoked the idea of alpha males, the damage had already been done.

Humans are primates, but not every primate is a human. Our societies and therefore behaviour is far more complex. Dean Burnett (6) argues, that behaviour always varies between different contexts. A guy who brags in a bar about his many achievements to impress women, may be a frustrated employee who is not able to speak up against his boss. Dominance and submission are not necessarily exclusive, which makes it reasonable to think, that something like a universal alpha male (someone who is dominant, aggressive, straight forward, etc. all the time) is highly unlikely.
Sometimes a bully is just a bully.

The hard truth


I know, this might come as a shock to some of you. I was surprised myself, when I realized that I’m not AAF but a common jerk. Well, I guess you can’t always win, right?

Probably not. But this opens up new possibilities. Be nice, for a change. As we can see, it often has its merits. The funny thing is, that being a kind person can actually have evolutionary benefits as well. There is quite some research available about what defines a healthy and stable relationship and personality traits like trustworthiness, kindness and humour are among the best predictors for it. Stable relationships tend to result more often in children, which is a clear indication for reproductive fitness. A few years ago, I heard someone saying, “Nice guys finish last”. I don’t know, whether this is true or not, but as far as I can tell, if nice guys finish – they last.

Feel always free to discuss my ideas and share your own thoughts about the things I’m writing about. Nobody is omniscient and if we all walk away a bit smarter than before, we’ll have achieved a lot.
Thanks for reading and be nice.

Make sure, to check out #steemstem for more science related content.


(3) Mech, L. David. (1981). The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species
(4) Mech, L. David. (1999). "Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs". Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77 (8): 1196–1203. doi:10.1139/z99-099. Archived from the original on December 14, 2005.
(5) Foster, M.W. "Alpha male chimpanzee grooming patterns: implications for dominance "style"". American Journal of Primatology. 2009.

Previous posts

Random Science

Your Weight is not Your Destiny

Random Thoughts

Psychology of Morality



Authors get paid when people like you upvote their post.
If you enjoyed what you read here, create your account today and start earning FREE STEEM!
Sort Order:  

Wow, I had so much fun reading this! @abigail-dantes recommended to visit your blog and read some quality content here, so now I am enjoying your old posts with my morning coffee :D I once had a funny experience with an "alpha" (or trying to be one). I was introduced to a guy who almost immediately said that I was fat. Actually, he sad that I was going to broke the chair I was sitting on. I have never been fat in my entire life (except when i was pregnant - I was the fattest person on Earth) and I was extremely surprised by his rude comment. So I put him on my Black list right away. Imagine how surprised I was to find out later that he was actually hitting on me! It turned out that he was reading a book called "How to be an alpha male" and was probing some of its techniques on me. According to the book, you have to humiliate the girl first, so that she feels inferior and then you have to say something nice. This is a number one recipe to have any girl you want! No doubt, she will crawl back to you feeling thankful for your precious attention. Well, what a surprise, it didn't work :D


Wow, doesn't happen very often, I see a comment on an article from three months ago :D

But I'm glad, I was able to provide you with some entertainment - I hope, you had fun reading other articles as well! :)


Oh, yes, I definitely had a lot of fun. I was actually ecstatic while I was reading about the NLP Bullshit. I absolutely hate these guys ;)

Those results were definitely surprising, although I hadn't given it muh thought in the past/


Some of my friends and colleagues are still sure about being "alpha" - so I needed some arguments to prove them wrong :D


Next time they'll think twice before they insist on that :P

This is definitely an interesting article. I always thought wolves do have Alpha Males,because that's what I see on movies.


Yeah, sadly this is still quite common in fictional works. Sure, it's a great selling point, but it's wrong nevertheless.


Crazy how things are way too exaggerated at times due to profit.

Nice guys, for the win!!

I didn't know that we are closer to bonobos than chimps.


Haha, yeah :D
I have experienced the merits of both "sides" so far^^

Glad, I was able to provide some new information :)

The Wolf is so strong and brave. I never see any ones in real life .

Oh I get it. So you are Mr Nice Guy who does not allow ego to get in the way -- the main problem of men hiding behind the label "Alpha Male" like a gorilla beating his chest. (Oppps, no offense to the gorillas) ;) :D