Monday, July 18, 2011


The NY Times* reported that field biologists studying baboons have found there can be a big downside to being No. 1, an alpha male or the primate equivalent to the bad boy.

Laurence R. Gesquiere, a research associate at Princeton, and colleagues report in the journal Science that in five troops of wild baboons in Kenya studied over nine years, alpha males showed very high stress levels. The stress was the result of the demands of fighting off challengers and guarding access to fertile females.

Beta males, the nice guys, fought less and had considerably less mate guarding to do, had much lower stress levels. They had fewer mating opportunities than the alphas (or bad boys), but they did get some mating in. After all, when the alpha male gets in another baboon bar fight, who’s going to get to take the girl home?

The alpha male or bad boy experiences higher levels of stress than the beta or nice guy male and there’s a cost because of the effects stress hormones have on one’s health. Researchers collected fecal samples to measure levels of glucocorticoids or stress hormones which showed that alpha males experienced higher levels of stress constantly.

Stress hormones are good in the short term because they work to energize the individual in threatening situations. In the long term, stress hormones cause you to fall apart physically and make one subject to diseases. Thus, alpha or bad boy baboons do not stay at the top very long.

The same is true for men. Since the bad boys are constantly dealing with some sort of conflict they are consistently carrying high levels of stress hormones. If the conflicts they have with other men doesn’t get them killed, they will get locked up or simply code out. That will make more women available for the beta or nice guy to choose from. While he might naturally finish second to the bad boy the beta will eventually end up first.

The best place for a beta to find a fine woman is while she is standing in line outside of the county jail waiting to visit her bad boy. After she finds out that her tough guy has turned into a prison hair braider, she will be ready to choose a beta boy over the bad boy.

Dr Will is the author of Relationships 911: Surviving Love's Emergencies

*James Gorman, “Baboon Study Shows Benefits for Nice Guys, Who Finish 2nd”, (July 14, 2011)

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