Being the Boss Really Is Stressful, Baboons Study Suggests
Being the top dog isn't all it's cracked up to be. Just ask a baboon. Hormones found in monkey poop show that being an alpha male baboon is more stressful than being second in command.
The findings may apply to business leaders, too.
A new study of wild baboons in Kenya led by a Princeton University ecologist found that even during periods of stability, the highest-ranking, or alpha, males have higher stress-hormone levels than the next highly ranked males, known as beta males.
Researchers measured levels of both a stress hormone called glucocorticoid and testosterone in fecal samples over a period of nine years.
The findings have implications in the study of social hierarchies and of the impact of social dominance on health and well-being, a subject of interest among researchers who study human and other animal populations.
"An important insight from our study is that the top position in some animal — and possibly human ― societies has unique costs and benefits associated with it, ones that may persist both when social orders experience some major perturbations as well as when they are stable," said lead author Laurence Gesquiere, an associate research scholar in Princeton's department of ecology and evolutionary biology. "Baboons are not only genetically closely related to humans, but like humans they live in highly complex societies."
Co-author Susan Alberts, a Duke University biology professor, said: "We've known for decades that alpha males have an advantage in reproduction, but these results show that life at the top has a real downside, and that being an alpha male comes at a real cost."
The study's results appear in the July 15 issue of the journal Science.
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