The Alpha Male Myth

I’ve followed Scott Barry Kaufman on Google+ for a couple of years, and haven’t regretted it. He deals in psychology, and usually provides interesting articles and research on cognition in general. In particular, he tends to post on creativity and intelligence, and is the author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.

He recently posted a guest article for The Art of Manliness entitled “The Alpha Male Myth” in which he writes:

When we impose just two categories of male on the world, we unnecessarily mislead young men into acting in certain predefined ways that aren’t actually conducive to attracting and sustaining healthy and enjoyable relationships with women, or finding success in other areas of life. So it’s really worth examining the link between so-called “alpha” behaviors (such as dominance) and attractiveness, respect, and status.

I find this especially appealing, since I am not the sort of man one would consider naturally dominant, let alone “alpha”. I don’t want to dominate others, or be dominated by others.

The Mentone Special:
The Mentone Special: “Neither Master Nor Slave”

Kaufman continues by summarizing a 1999 study by Jerry Burger and Mica Cosby called “Do Women Prefer Dominant Men? The Case of the Missing Control Condition”. This study suggests mere dominance isn’t as attractive a quality in men or women as previously suggested by other studies lacking a crucial control condition.

Most of this is just setup and context. The real meat of the article comes in Kaufman’s exploration of dominance vs. prestige. Check this out:

In our species, the attainment of social status, and the mating benefits that come along with it, can be accomplished through compassion and cooperation just as much (if not more so) as through aggression and intimidation. Scholars across ethnography, ethology, sociology, and sociolinguistics believe that at least two routes to social status – dominance and prestige – arose in evolutionary history at different times and for different purposes.

The dominance route is paved with intimidation, threats, and coercion, and is fueled by hubristic pride. Hubristic pride is associated with arrogance, conceit, anti-social behaviors, unstable relationships, low levels of conscientiousness and high levels of disagreeableness, neuroticism, narcissism, and poor mental health outcomes. Hubristic pride, along with its associated feelings of superiority and arrogance, facilitates dominance by motivating behaviors such as aggression, hostility, and manipulation.

In contrast, prestige is paved with the emotional rush of accomplishment, confidence, and success, and is fueled by authentic pride. Authentic pride is associated with pro-social and achievement-oriented behaviors, agreeableness, conscientiousness, satisfying interpersonal relationships, and positive mental health. Critically, authentic pride is associated with genuine self-esteem (considering yourself a person of value, not considering yourself superior to others). Authentic pride, along with its associated feelings of confidence and accomplishment, facilitates behaviors that are associated with attaining prestige. People who are confident, agreeable, hard-working, energetic, kind, empathic, non-dogmatic, and high in genuine self-esteem inspire others and cause others to want to emulate them.

For my part, I’ve tried to find authentic pride through my work as a programmer and a novelist. Rather than being a boss or a leader (which isn’t as negative, but still a role with which I’m uncomfortable), I seek self-worth through creativity. It’s pretty much my best bet, since I am not necessarily agreeable, energetic, kind, or empathic.

I’m still working on the “considering myself a person of value” part, but that’s a story for another day.

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About Matthew Graybosch

I realized when I was eighteen that I'd never be a great musician. I had read so much mediocre fantasy and science fiction by then that I was sure I could do a better job. I set out to prove it by writing Starbreaker, an epic sci-fi/fantasy hybrid inspired by the music of classic heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, the Blue Öyster Cult, and Queensrÿche. Without Bloodshed is my first published novel, but it won't be my last. Follow me if you dare.

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