Big and strong? That's not what makes an alpha male, says primatolgist Frans de Waal.
- The cultural notion of an alpha male as a strong, mean aggressor is rampant but wrong. The reality is more complex.
- Frans de Waal notes two types of alpha males: Bullies and leaders. In chimpanzee society, the former terrorizes the group while the latter mediates conflict.
- 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.
Primatologist Frans de Waal explains the primal instinct that unites humans and chimpanzees.
- Humans throw temper tantrums when they feel frustrated, lose power, or sense a threat to their status or security.
- Chimpanzees exhibit the same behavior; alpha male chimps who lose their status throw tantrums to elicit sympathy from their group, hoping to have their power restored.
- But that tactic almost never works, notes primatologist Frans de Waal. An important lesson for humans from chimps.
Biology gives us the general moral sense and the general ability to develop a moral system but the specific rules that we apply in our society are not necessarily given by biology.
Frans de Waal is a Dutch/American biologist and primatologist. He teaches at Emory University and directs the Living Links Center for the Study of Ape and Human Evolution, in Atlanta, Georgia. He is known for his popular books, such as Chimpanzee Politics (1982), Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (1997) and The Age of Empathy (2009). He has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences.