WSJ:One evening a week, a group of CEOs meets in a Manhattan psychiatrist’s office and engages in an ancient ritual. Ostensibly, it is a support group.
Inevitably, it becomes a battle for dominance.”Whenever you put alpha males together, the most aggressive will overpower the others,” says T. Byram Karasu, the veteran psychiatrist who has run the sessions for the past 23 years. The fighting is subtle, but it’s vicious. “Even giving advice is geared toward lowering the others’ self-esteem. Those at the lower end of the group come away doubting themselves, and their testosterone falls. They tell me they can’t have sex for three or four days afterward.”
Alpha males get the girls, but beta males have fewer stress-related health problems, at least among baboons, according to a recent Princeton study. As Melinda Beck explains on Lunch Break, that appears to have health consequences for humans, too.
It isn’t easy being an alpha male. Getting to the top and staying there takes a physical toll.
The latest evidence comes from wild baboons in Kenya’s Amboseli basin. Researchers from Princeton and Duke universities studied 125 males in five groups over nine years and found that while the alpha males got the best food and the most mates, they experienced far more stress than the beta males just beneath them in the hierarchy, based on the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in fecal samples.
The beta males had almost as many mates and got just as much grooming from others, but they didn’t have to spend as much time fighting or following females around to keep other males away.
“Being an alpha is exhausting. I’d rather be a beta,” says Laurence Gesquiere, lead author of the study that appeared in the journal Science in July.
In the human savannah, where smarts matter more than brute strength, alphas run companies, amass fortunes and dominate any meeting they’re in. They are ambitious, assertive, confident and competitive. “You can smell it in about 30 seconds,” says Dr. Karasu, who is psychiatrist-in-chief of Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
… Beta males, by contrast, are nice guys, peacemakers and team players. They make good husbands, fathers and friends. Some experts say they tend to be happier than alphas, since they aren’t driven by the need to be on top. Betas can come in many forms—from competent wingmen to extreme introverts who are so determined to avoid conflict they suffer anxiety of their own.
Many observational studies of people and primates have shown that, in general, it’s more stressful at the bottom of the social hierarchy than the top. Two long-running studies of British civil-service workers found that people in the lowest ranks had many more health problems and were three times as likely to die as the highest-grade administrators in a 10-year period—even though they all had access to health-care services.
To date, there have been few studies assessing whether human alphas or betas are healthier. …
The joy of what we do is that you dont have to give a shit about what others think or your own perceived place in a hierarchy.