Biosociology of Dominance and Deference

Authored by: Allan Mazur

Handbook on Evolution and Society

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9781612058146
eBook ISBN: 9781315634203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258339


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Allocation and maintenance of rank in status hierarchies of human face-to-face groups are in many ways similar to what is observed in dominance hierarchies of other primates, especially in species close to us, the African apes. This is prima facie evidence that human behaviors of dominance and deference are homologous with those of other primates. Language, exclusive to humans, may be an exception, or, as here, it may be incorporated into a general primate model. The present model emphasizes that all individuals signal that they are (or ought to be) of high or low status in the group. Group members may accept these signs, consensually forming the group's hierarchy. Or one individual might challenge another for higher rank, their disagreement eventually resolved through one or more dominance contests. Among humans, dominance contests are usually nonviolent, even polite, but can nonetheless be decisive. In a dominance contest, each contestant tries (perhaps unconsciously) to "out-stress" the other until one, in effect, concedes the higher rank. Proximate neurohormonal mechanisms underlie rank allocation, including the neurophysiology of stress and the influence of testosterone.

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