It’s tough at the top for alpha males—study

/ 04:06 AM July 15, 2011

WASHINGTON—If you’re feeling envious of your boss’s paycheck, a study out Thursday shows that success comes with high stress, possibly as much as faced by those who have to struggle to find a bite to eat.

The results of nine years of research on wild baboons, published in the journal Science, suggest that despite perks like easy access to mates and food, top-ranking males experience similar stress levels as their lowest-rung counterparts.


Those in the middle showed lower stress than either the top or bottom ranking males, according to measurements of testosterone and a stress hormone known as glucocorticoid.

“Alpha males exhibited much higher stress hormone levels than second-ranking (beta) males, suggesting that being at the top may be more costly than previously thought,” said the study led by researchers at Princeton University.


Samples were taken from the feces of a wild male baboon population in Ambelosi, Kenya.

While the stress levels at the top and bottom were similar, they were likely caused by different problems.

Alpha baboons spent lots of energy fighting to stay on top and trying to mate with as many females as possible, while the low-ranking males expended lots of effort searching for food.

Meanwhile, there may be perks for not reaching quite so high.

The second-rate beta males received about the same amount of attention – in the form of grooming – from females, but did “slightly better than predicted” at reaching their “full reproductive potential,” the study said.

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