Alpha (biology)

Alpha (biology)

In social animals, the alpha male is the individual in the community to whom the others follow and defer. 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 and humans, a contender can use more indirect methods, such as political alliances, to oust the ruling alpha and take his place.

Beta and omega

In the power hierarchy of the human 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 male or future alphas if they persist in challenging the regnant alpha male. The term omega (omega) is an antonym often used in a deprecating or self-deprecating manner to refer to member at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The omega is subservient to all members.

In reference to humans, the terms "alpha" and "beta" in this usage are often confused with the old psychological terms "type-alpha" and "type-beta" personalities, now commonly known as "type-A" and "type-B".

ee also

*The Alpha-Pluses of "Brave New World"
*Chillingham Cattle
*Big man

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