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Nice Guys Win

That’s the message from Robert Sapolsky, professor of biological sciences at Stanford and neurology at Stanford’s School of Medicine, from his studies of baboon behaviour in the Serengeti:

For the humans who would like to know what it takes to be an alpha man–if I were 25 and asked that question I would certainly say competitive prowess is important–balls, translated into the more abstractly demanding social realm of humans. What’s clear to me now at 45 is, screw the alpha male stuff. Go for an alternative strategy. Go for the social affiliation, build relationships with females, don’t waste your time trying to figure out how to be the most adept socially cagy male-male competitor. Amazingly enough that’s not what pays off in that system. Go for the affiliative stuff and bypass the male crap. I could not have said that when I was 25.

A handful of (the baboons) simply walked away from it over the years. Nathaniel was one, and Joshua was another. They had the lowest stress hormone levels you’ve ever seen in male baboons, and outlived their cohorts. The fact that this alternative strategy is actually the more adaptive one is one of the good bits of news to come out of primatology in quite some time. If that’s the future of primates, this planet is going to be in great shape in a couple of million years.

A great article, and pretty funny in places — especially where he discusses the results of baboons’ lack of a developed frontal cortex:

Even though there are tremendous individual differences among the baboons, they’re still at this neurological disadvantage, compared to the apes, and thus they typically blow it at just the right time. They could be scheming these incredible coalitions, but at the last moment, one decides to slash his partner in the ass instead of the guy they’re going after, just because he can get away with it for three seconds. The whole world is three seconds long–they’re very pointillist in their emotions.

More at the Edge Magazine site.