Dominance hierarchy  

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Pyramid of Capitalist System, anonymous American cartoon (1911)
Pyramid of Capitalist System, anonymous American cartoon (1911)

"Dominance between species defines the nature of the food chain, and may underly the phylogenetic evolution of neural systems that affect dominant and submissive behavior. Those systems include the monoaminergic systems, especially those mediated by the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, and by polypeptides, especially endorphines."--Sholem Stein

"Queen bees and alpha males."--Sholem Stein

Pollice Verso (1872) by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Pollice Verso (1872) by Jean-Léon Gérôme

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Dominance hierarchy arises when members of a social group interact, often aggressively, to create a ranking system. In social living groups, members are likely to compete for access to limited resources and mating opportunities. Rather than fight each time they meet, relative relationships are formed between members of the same sex. These repetitive interactions lead to the creation of a social order that is subject to change each time a dominant animal is challenged by a subordinate one.


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Alpha males

In social animals, the alpha male or alpha female is the individual in the community whom the others follow and defer to. Where one male and one female fulfill this role, they are referred to as the alpha pair. In some groups, the alpha males and females are overrepresented in the genetics of a population if they are the only ones who breed successfully.

Chimpanzees show deference to the alpha of the community by ritualised gestures such as bowing, allowing the alpha to walk first in a procession, or standing aside when the alpha challenges. Canines also show deference to the alpha pair in their pack, by allowing them to be the first to eat and, usually, the only pair to mate; wolves are a good example of this. The status of the alpha is generally achieved by means of superior physical prowess; however, in certain highly social species such as the bonobo, a contender can use more indirect methods, such as political alliances, to oust the ruling alpha and take his/her place.

In humans, the expression refers to a man who is powerful or high on the social ladder, similar to hegemonic masculinity. In Western cultures, the term is usually pejorative and describes a man who is overtly or affectedly masculine to the point of rejecting any affront to his ascribed status.

Beta male and omega male

In the power hierarchy of the animal group, two other roles also are defined and named. First, the Beta male, which is the contender, subservient to the alpha male, but only after testing. The betas act as second-in-command and can either be dethroned alpha males or future alphas if they persist in challenging the regnant alpha male. The term Omega male is an antonym often used in a deprecating or self-deprecating manner to refer to males at the bottom of the social hierarchy. An omega male will be subservient to both the alpha and the beta males.

Pecking order

Pecking order or just peck order is the colloquial term for a hierarchical system of social organization in chickens. It was first described from the behaviour of poultry by Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe in 1921 under the German terms Hackordnung or Hackliste and introduced into English in 1927.

The original usage of "pecking order" referred to the expression of dominance of birds. Dominance in chickens is expressed in various behaviours including pecking which was used by Schjelderup-Ebbe as a measure of dominance and leadership order. In his 1924 German-language article he noted that "defense and aggression in the hen is accomplished with the beak". A rooster is not required in a hen house. Chickens will lay an egg once every 25 hours. The rooster, if present, may fertilize the egg, but is not needed to simply lay an egg. In small batches of females without a rooster, one female will assume the dominant role. She will stop producing eggs and become the 'watch dog' for the flock.

This emphasis on pecking led most subsequent studies on fowl behaviour to use it as a primary observation. However, it was also noted that roosters tended to leap and use their feet in conflicts. The term dominance hierarchy is often used for this phenomenon in other animals.

It is a basic concept in social stratification and social hierarchy that has its counterpart in other animal species, including humans. Still, the term "pecking order" is often used synonymously; the "pecking order" was the first studied example of the social hierarchy among animals.

The basic concept behind the establishment of the pecking order among, for example, chickens, is that it is necessary to determine who is the 'top chicken,' the 'bottom chicken' and where all the rest fit in between. The establishment of the dominance hierarchy is believed to reduce the incidence of intense conflicts that incur a greater expenditure of energy. The dominance level determines which individual gets preferential access to resources such as food and mates.

Chickens held in intensive poultry farming operations are often confined with up to 40,000 other birds in a single shed, making natural pecking order impossible.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dominance hierarchy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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