Why the ‘alpha male’ stereotype is wrong | Frans de Waal


The alpha male literature, at the moment,
in the business world is all about bullying. It’s like, ‘I’m the biggest, and meanest,
and strongest, and I’ll beat you over the head.’ It is basically also seen as a personality
characteristic, too “Do you have an alpha personality?” I’m partly responsible for the term “alpha
male” because I wrote Chimpanzee Politics very long ago, and it was recommended by Newt
Gingrich to the Republicans to read. I don’t know what good it did, but the term
“alpha male” became very popular after that. And for example, the last election, 2016,
the word was used all the time to explain the behavior of certain candidates, especially
the one who won the election. And so “alpha male,” the term, has been used
over and over, and I think in a very narrow sense. It’s always been used in the sense like, who’s
the biggest and the strongest? Now, for me, that is not really what the alpha
male is about. I think being big and strong has benefits. And certainly, in a chimpanzee society, being
big and strong is a way to get to the top. But then once you’re at the top, I usually
distinguish two kinds of alpha males. I consider the bullies, those are the ones
who frighten everybody, and terrorize everybody, and beat them over the head, and win the fights,
and so on. And the leaders, the ones who mediate in conflicts,
they stop conflicts, they are consoler-in-chief; if someone is distressed because they have
lost a fight or whatever, they go over there. In human society, you can see that kind of
role also. For example, the pope will go to a village
that has been destroyed by an earthquake, or the president will go to a place that had
been hurt by a hurricane. So the consoler-in-chief is extremely important. And the mediation role of settling fights
and keeping the unity of the group, basically, the unifier of the group, is a very important
role as well. And so that’s the leader side. The bullies usually end poorly. In the wild, in chimpanzees, we have bullies
who get expelled or even killed by the group. And I think their reign lasts fewer years. So for example, a good alpha male, one of
them in the wild lasted for 12 years. And I think the reason these males sometimes
can be in power for 12 years is because the group likes them, and so the group has no
reason to support a challenger. If there’s a challenge coming along who challenges
that alpha male, and he’s a very good leader, they’re going to defend him. They keep him in power. So it’s almost like a democratic mechanism
right there. And if it’s a bully, then the first thing
they do if there is a challenger is support the challenger. And so that’s why also in chimpanzee society,
the alpha male very often is a good leader and is a unifier. And I think it’s always very unfortunate if
people reduce the position of alpha male to being the strongest, and the meanest, and
the biggest.

100 thoughts on “Why the ‘alpha male’ stereotype is wrong | Frans de Waal

  1. "Alpha" and "Beta" are a false dichotomy. It's an over-simplification to make judgements about people/animals easier to understand for the average Joe/Jane.
    The book "The Wolf" popularized this notion and the author admitted later his observations were wrong, but the "damage" had been done.

  2. Don't see how it's wrong? It exists; according to the definition: I understand he's disagreeing with it, but literally by definition 'alpha males' exist, henceforth not wrong? I know he's not doubting the plausibility of it but otherwise, there's nothing wrong with it, not even morally – it's a broad term.

  3. There's only two things I can't stand in this world. Those who are intolerant of other people's cultures… and the Dutch.

  4. So, interesting that this guy basically takes credit for proliferating the term "alpha male". I'm fine with a little self-selling, but where does the term actually originate?
    My knowledge on this is limited, and I probably got it from somewhere on the internet, but here is why "the alpha male stereotype is wrong":
    Initially, AFAIK, the term originated in a study about wolves. Alpha and beta were just terms assigned the male and female wolves, as their social order is very strict and a straight hierarchy.
    So, first problem, this is not actually meant to be a binary term, that there is an "alpha male type" and a "beta male type". You'd have to go further down the greek alphabet, but there can only be one leader, the alpha. But what about second best, betas? They're still stronger and more assertive than gammas and deltas, right?
    So the modern interpretation – the binary social order of just alphas and betas – might be wrong.
    The kicker is this:
    The innitial study observed the behaviour of wolves, which are not primates. Already, the ability to transfer lessons from their behaviour to the much more complex society of man is a bit wonky.
    But not only that, it was wolves in captivity. And especially troubling, wolves in captivity in a much too small enclosure.
    These were animals that were under pressure, stressed, and fighting for control of what they thought was limited territory and food supplies.
    Like a prison that is on the verge of a riot – at all fucking times.
    These were not mentally stable wolves, these were not normal wolves like you would find in the wild.
    And from that poisoned well sprang that whole toxic "be an alpha male" philosophy that has given us such delightful company as the Red Pill movement, that whole motivational speaker bullshit about not backing down, standing up for yourself, etc. Plus, all these guys who try "dating tricks" that are just Psych 101 manipulation tricks to get laid …. they've eaten this shit up and they've got an "excuse rooted in science" now.
    Fucking great.
    The author, AFAIR, has published multiple books pointing out the flaws in their initial study, but who is going to report on that, hu?
    Because if I check the wiki now it says that there is an alpha COUPLE that leads the wolf pack, and they are only doing any leading when the situation requires it. So the alpha male business man who has to be in control 100% of the time is complete and utter nonsense, if you want to base it on wolves.
    Pretty much everything the humans have done with the term has focused on this macho behaviour that stems from the negative connotations – a chimp behaving like that would be de-throned before he knew what was happening.

  5. Alpha and beta shit is so corny. Alpha just gives guys a reason to act a certain way, and beta for guys to explain why they act a certain way. In actuality, nobody is acting like themselves because they're too focused on what it means to be alpha/beta.

  6. I think of an alpha male as a leader. THere are many different aspects to leadership but ultimately all that matters is you are successful. If you are successful, people will defer to you to make decisions and want to be on your team. Someone with the stereotypical 'beta' qualities of being physically weak and neurotic would still attract subordinates if he's also a brilliant guy who always makes the right decisions and is successful.

  7. Did I detect a spin? You HAD TO BRING POLITICS into you're talk. Your credibilty has deminished greatly. Stick to your facts without finger pointing.

  8. The biggest and strongest have no reason to push their weight around unless challenged , but thats just nature as well right

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  10. The whole concept of gender doesn't exist. It is nothing but a social construct created by humans to oppress others…men vs women, alphas vs betas, feminazis vs mgtows, etc.

  11. So a benevolent patriarchy is better than an oppressive patriarchy. Of course, in human societies we can have matriarchies too.

  12. I've been called this shit. Didn't agree with it. I guess that's my alpha male confidence speaking, lol. 😂

  13. I'm a surveyor. Worked a lot of construction. There's plenty of alphas in that industry, especially on the more positive leader side (I know, that might have thrown your expectations there).

    It's a shame that there's a negative connotation to alphas in that sense. Those are the men that get things done, they have ambition, confidence, they lead by example. They make mistakes as all people do, but the fact they're willing to put themselves out there (open to failure) and be definitive is what gains respect. Having alpha leaders instead of group council makes my work very unique.

    Every job uses the same principles, but how these alpha men approach the input they receive, and how they leverage the people around them really does determine how successful a project really is.

    I like the no nonsense, but practical side of construction. Does it cater to the individual? Not really, but it gives the individual greater purpose towards a common goal. That's a big deal. Modern society wants us to look at the "individuals" problems, nurture and protect them. But I posit, working with positive alpha leaders will push a person to their greatest potential regardless of the disability holding them back (more than coddling, or running by committee ever will.)

    Society needs more positive alphas, not less of them.

  14. "alpha male" I thought that was in reference the letter "A" (as in a type "A" personality) which I assumed stood for asshole

  15. Nowadays, people seem to think "alpha male" means "angry asshole". Nothing could be further from the truth. The alpha is a natural leader. And he/she doesn't need to yell or make threats to get results, because people will naturally follow. I would argue that the "angry asshole" is either a frustrated beta acting out, or a "fake alpha".

  16. But the terms are still useful. For example, whenever I see someone label people as "alpha" and "beta", I instantly know that any further attempt at serious debate is a waste of my time.

  17. The alt right experience: Beta male libs are comfortable with gay people. I'm insecure instead. Fight me! Why can't I get a girlfriend?

  18. Alpha male is for old times where the stronger and bigger male is an alpha.. it has no place in this modern world. No matter how strong or big you are, you are just 1 bullet in the head

  19. the title is wrong, maybe unsaid side of alpha male would be better, or trait that make alpha male truly stong, or something else

  20. True alphas aren't bullies, they don't talk a big game, they show & prove with very little words, & they are deep thinkers. Alphas also aren't afraid to love & they don't hate women. True alpha males also respect themselves as well as others. Most true alphas are actually behind the scenes type of guys who don't necessarily require a lot of attention but they get what they want & need, they accomplish goals, & they enjoy their lives. That's the kind of man I am striving to be.

  21. Alpha male is just a fancy term for sociopath.

    A economic and political environment can rapidly evolve certain traits in the leadership. Modern society is really really rapidly rewarding and uplifting the idea meme of dark triad personality is apex male, and is causing rapid onset of authoritarian and extreme hierarchical amoral imperious culture tropes.

  22. Robert Sapolsky has done some interesting research that has shed light on this. When the alphas were killed off from disease, the troop was transformed and became more peaceful and cooperative.

  23. "Alpha male" is a euphemism for a bully with power. In the future, carnal attractions (like this) will be left for the less evolved of our species

  24. Strength and dominance are the entry-level requirement. However, once a human realizes they have no benefit from a relationship with said Alpha, they will drop the adulation.

  25. I think its dangerous , young men may use the alpha male theories as an excuse for bullying " betas " or " omegas " , or even rape women … humans may be animals , but i feel like we're too dangerous to simply give control to the person with the most confidence and energy around…

  26. The reign of alpha male bullies usually ends poorly in the wild. Chimpanzee bullies get expelled or even killed by their group, while leader alphas are somewhat democratically kept in power, sometimes for as long as 12 years. 12 years huh?

  27. Actions speak louder than words. A lot of men can talk a big game that they’re the quintessential “MAN” that’s the top dog but it’s about what you do.

  28. An alpha male is simply a male that uses his masculinity as a strength, for his own betterment and the betterment of those that rely on him. Femininity in males is extremely toxic. Similarly, femininity is a strength for females for too many reasons to list, whereas masculinity in females is extremely toxic, the main toxicity being that masculine females' drive to succeed and dominate has the effect of diminishing other females' view of their own strength in femininity, all the while the masculine female is trying to convince everyone that the best female is one that is a mediocre male and nothing more.

  29. Any man that has to constantly reiterate and brag about being an “alpha” is clearly weak and underdeveloped in areas that matter most….

  30. Being a alpha male is like being a straight up douche bag but all I can say is be yourself don't act like anything your not.

  31. Alpha male is not about bullying or Being supremely superior or being narcissistic, it's about being respected the most, the egoistic altruistic people , the leaders , it's about being having a deep morals and character, it's having deep confident in ones self worth, it's being the male people seek advice from its like being "Caesar" from the movie – planet of the apes. It's like being "MUFASA" from THE LION KING and in humans it's like being MARTIN Luther King Jr., Mahatama GANDHI, Nelson Mandela etc..

  32. This fully illustrates why chimpanzees demonstrate greater intelligence than modern American "human" society. According to this, the chimpanzee GROUPS expel (KILL OFF) the "Alpha" individuals that just go around trying to provoke conflict/problems/drama.

    But in our human American society, we have 1,000 books and Youtube videos telling every male he's supposed to go around constantly asserting himself trying to provoke conflicts, never using manners and never backing down from someone who "looks at him" (lest he be considered weak and "Beta"). Then, rather than expelling them entirely for such behaviour that's grossly incompatible with any rational concept of CIVILIZED SOCIETY, the group gives them a slap on the wrist in the form of a few months to a few years in jail/prison — where these anti-civilized concepts are further hyper-glorified — AT GREAT EXPENSE TO THE REST OF SOCIETY (via the tax burden) THAT JUST TRIES TO WORK HARD AND ACKNOWLEDGE/PRACTICE BASIC CONCEPTS OF COOPERATIVE CIVILITY. THEN, they get out of prison, and act THE SAME WAY (if you don't believe that, just take a casual look at the recalcitrance statistics of violent prison offenders). It is truly unbelievable that these concepts have become so entrenched in EVOLVED modern thinking.

  33. The problem with the whole concept of alpha, beta and omega males is that like Briffault's law it seeks to take a concept from the animal kingdom and apply that concept to humans (brains many times more complex then animals). People are effected by these laws by a corollary of intelligence (the less intelligent are more likely to follow) and nurture (those raised well by parents are less likely to follow).

  34. In my opinion an alpha male would be the perfect example of just a simple womanizer.
    Men who attract lots of women these type of men I would consider alpha males cause to attract women you need to increase your sexual market value and technically women are attracted to high value men.

  35. It's pretty easy obvious that if someone has to constantly reassure themselves and others of how Alpha they are, they are just insecure; unknowingly doing this as a self defense mechanism cause otherwise they won't feel valid.

  36. It's incredible how the estrogen filled effeminate beta males, LOVE to bash the alpha male. ONLY beta males would be so desperate to jump at even the concept of the alpha male. It's because they feel disgusted and threatened by him. Even the idea scares them. Big Think has started promoting a specific agenda. Let's dig deeper. What are they attacking here, in this video? The concept, THE IDEA of the "Alpha Male". One that can not be ruled over, dominated, subjugated in spirit.

    They are paying Frans, to attack the idea of an alpha male, so that they erase it from the minds of people, so that you don't rebel, so that you don't challenge authority, so that you become like zombified SHEEP!. Open your eyes, wide as the sky. You are being used as tools, for an agenda. Destroy the alpha male, then promote the beta male. Mix that in with some feminism, and in 50 years you have an empire like America…now an Empire of Castrated Retarded Cowardly males. Thus you can take over a country, when its men are weak. 😉

    WAKE UP!

  37. For those who don't understand or want to know what Alpha and Beta are, it is very simple. They are personality traits, behaviors, needs etc. But of course, Frans (Even though i read 2 of his books) is paid to BASH the CONCEPT of a strong dominant male, projecting the idea of a "bully" onto him. Very false and dishonest!

  38. You see this dynamic all the time with ghetto shitskins. Black men love chest beatin', hootin' & hollerin', playing the tough guy 'gangsta' role but they fail in the long term. Whereas other races of men last far longer in dominance & heirarchy because they make more intelligent decisions & can actually help each other out without being a drain on society.

  39. "Alpha males" are meatheads that are insecure about everything. They do not bow down to any "Beta Male" oh ya unless it is making their car payments and rent to a "Beta"

  40. “Alpha” and “beta” are terms used to describe most animal hierarchy’s that involve pack related relations, think wolves, chimps etc. we are different for the sole fact we have society, we don’t need to be alphas and betas because we don’t all live in a pack. For the most part you grow up in a localized pact your mom and your dad and perhaps some siblings. When you grow up you go out alone and you attempt to court and procreate with a female to carry on your genes, that’s where our ties with animalistic behaviors basically ends. We then create a localized pack of our own and raise our younglings to do the exact same. We don’t spend our entire lives with a pack therefore we don’t need alphas and betas, now momentarily you may need to take on alpha characteristics to court a female but that’s not being an alpha that’s basic survival instinct to be better than the competition.

  41. Alpha males are something that exist in polyamorous species which typically have multiple offspring per birth, lack of paternal investment in offspring, lack of long term pair bonding between mates, pronounced sexual dimorphism (think of the male and female peacock) and high in group aggression between males, territorial dominance over females.

    When we look at humans, we see that females have high biological investment in offspring and typically only one child per birth which creates a huge evolutionary pressure towards pair bonding in order to secure the protection of a mate.

    The human brain releases oxytocin known as "the love hormone" upon sexual intercourse and love making which shows pair bonding has a biological basis, not just a cultural one. Anyone who has been in love would know this is obvious.

    We are a sexually dimorphic species but the physical difference between men and women is minimal compared to what you see in other closely related primates where polyamory is the norm.

    We do have aggression between males, but it has always been between group aggression, tribe versus tribe or nation vs nation that has been the norm. In group aggression between humans, assault, murder etc is something every human society has punished and imposed penalties upon. The level of in group aggression seen in polyamorous species wouldn't be condusive to the social structure humans have.

    And finally yes there have always been those more or less successful in attracting mates, but the keyword is *attraction* not territorial dominance. The females in Chimp societies get very little say in who they mate with, the Alpha male chases off all the other males.

  42. How does anyone in academia talk about Alpha males without acknowledging that the person who came out with the theory 20 years later realized he was wrong because the Alpha wolves who he thought were the leaders of the pack, were actually just the parents in the pack? And yet this guy has done it… that should tell you all you need to know about how biased he is or maybe how ignorant, I don't know whats worse.

  43. In reality, the alpha has more money than the other males in the group.

    No need to look further. It is so obvious. I think an educated teen could identify this.

    Women always tend to be attracted to them for that very reason.

  44. Humans are retarded they fail to understand the social structure of animals and change the meaning of the words

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