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Beta Is Better

A new study of baboons shows downside to being a top male

Two male baboons fighting for alpha status. Photo by Jeanne Altmann

Alpha males are rich and powerful, and they get the girls. That’s the mythology, and it’s true, except it doesn’t tell the whole story.

A new study of baboons, who are our close cousins, shows that maintaining your position as an alpha male is enormously stressful, and the stress hormones that alpha males of both species routinely produce can be very damaging to your health.

Beta males, by comparison, have a better quality of life. (Check out, for example, how quickly every president of the United States ages, and check out how much better their V.P.’s look.)

The new report comes from a study of 125 baboons in the Amboseli region of Kenya. The full report is in Science magazine. And there are good explanations of it in Timemagazine and the New York Times.

What do you say? Are you an alpha male type? How’s your stress level? Let us know in a comment or on Facebook.