Anatomy of the Alpha Male
From Identification to Impersonation
Anatomy of the Alpha Male
From Identification to Impersonation
"Some guys have all the luck, some guys have all the pain, some guys get all the breaks, some guys do nothing but complain." Rod Stewart
Since humans first lay metatarsals (and even before that, phalanges) on the earth, there have been alpha males. They've gotten the chicks, the success, the respect, and the other fringe benefits that come with social and sexual power, for millions of years. But why? Why do other men figuratively, and literally, bow to these strong characters? Why do women swoon over them with interest that can only be described as sexual veneration?
Well, I've consulted with some of our primate cousins, some laboratory mice, some Hollywood celebrities, a pop star, and a few anthropological and evolutionary gurus to come up with an answer that would suit only the most discerning audience.
Join me as I unveil my alpha male consortium findings and set out to capture the essence of the elusive creature that is the Alpha Male.
The Alpha Male, in a NUTshell
Firstly, let's get one thing straight. In the context of this conversation, where males' dominant characteristics will be compared to other males' not-so-dominant characteristics, "alpha man" is a misnomer. "Alpha man" is only correctly used when it refers to a man who reigns over ALL of his kingdom -- women, children, animals, the television remote -- in a tyrannical manner not unlike that of Adolph Hitler or Archie Bunker.
The proper term for the male who holds major assets in the sexual, social, and food stores of his community, only when compared to other males, is "alpha male." He's the boss, the jock, the one envied by his friends and his enemies. Although some men use their alpha statuses to oppress and persecute those of their own sex and those of the opposite sex, the term "alpha male" in no way implies that all alpha males bear this mindset. In fact, many alpha males have learned to capitalize on their already attractive assets with a syrupy, sweet demeanor, further securing their reign.
So, what's responsible for that certain alpha something that some men possess? Largely, it's testosterone. Historically, the man who could kill the biggest boar, roll the biggest boulder, and sire the biggest brood of offspring was likely to hold the title of alpha male. Why? Because high testosterone levels contribute to increased muscle mass, blind bravery, and a "hardy" sex drive.
The characteristics of the alpha male have spoken to females throughout the ages. Women have traditionally sought out males who offered good odds in the departments of healthy children, protection, and bacon bringing.
Finding the alpha male in modern times can be more difficult than it once was…unless you know what to look for. Sure, men aren't tackling boars, skinning tigers, rearranging molars, and making genetic deposits, all before 9 a.m., anymore. But they are employing many of the same old alpha male manners. Here are some behaviors that can help you to identify the alpha male in any group:
• He freely touches others in the group, without expressed or implied permission.
• He might intimidate by staring, or he could simply use the unnerving tactic to demand attention.
• He's never uncomfortable with eye contact, and will never break it first.
• He'll unapologetically interrupt conversations or monologues.
• He'll utilize the pregnant pause, stopping in the middle of sentences, phrases, even words, because he enjoys it when others allegorically hang on his every word.
• When anyone in the group makes a significant statement, everyone in the group will look to the alpha male for his response.
• He'll do most everything slowly and with deliberation. If the doorbell rings, he might finish his drink before answering it. If the phone rings, the voicemail might beat him to the caller. If someone calls his name, he'll finish his sentence and his sandwich before responding. If the building's burning, he won't stop, drop, and roll -- he'll put out his cigarette, run a comb through his hair, lie down, and then considering rolling casually from the collapsing building. This forces those around him to move on his schedule -- a demonstration of situation (and people) control.
• He holds the conversation's figurative remote control: despite others' attempts to change the channel, he'll flex his power to make them think that what he wants to talk about is what they want to talk about.
• When walking in a group of men, the alpha male will generally go first. Without a hint of metaphor, he takes the lead.
• If the waitress forgot to put in half of the order, and the alpha male receives his dinner before the rest of the group, he'll have no qualms about eating in front of his famished friends, and will continue to dominate conversation as he does so.
• He'll attempt to sit or stand the tallest.
• By inflating his chest, widening his shoulders, putting his hands on his hips, and/or spreading his feet apart when standing, he's attempting to appear larger -- to take up more room than a bull elephant in musk.
• When sitting, he might put his feet on a desk, place his hands behind his head, spread his legs…again, to appear larger and take more than his allotted portion of air space.
• He will have no doubts about holding his chin high, exposing his neck. This evolutionary hold-over behavior says, "I'm not afraid of any of you. Look, here's my exposed jugular to prove it."
• He'll show no sign of nervousness -- no high-chest breathing, no fidgeting, no jumping like Richard Simmons on caffeine.
• He'll ask questions of his cohorts, as if every meeting was a reenactment of the Spanish Inquisition. Most conversations will be one-sided, with his mind being the inquiring one. He'll disclose very little about himself.
• In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, he might be a close talker. This is a show of territorial rights. He's taking his piece of the floor out of someone else's…just because he can.
Next time you're on the couch with your remote, a bucket of wings, and nothing to watch but old Barbara Walters interviews or red carpet celebrity herding, watch the body language, and movement and speech mannerisms, of Bruce Willis, Sean Connery, George Clooney, or Brad Pitt. They're prime specimens of the alpha male (they're also prime specimens of the human male).
As you become skilled in identifying alpha males in a group, you'll likely begin to recognize that other levels of dominant and submissive behavior follows. There are the beta males, who account for the largest portion of the male population. These men might strive to achieve alpha male status, or might be perfectly happy scooping up females who have been thrown from the throne. A perfect example of a beta male who isn't happy with being beta is anyone who is excessively bossy, who seems to enjoy inciting fights, and who often attempts tasks, careers, or sexual conquests that are clearly above his head. He might be angry, unsatisfied, and envious of alpha males.
The moral of the story? Muscles, a facial tattoo, physical abuse, and a career in professional heavy weight boxing (I'm mentioning no names here), do not make an alpha male. The formula is held in a NUTshell. It's intangible to everyone but an endocrinologist. It's testosterone, and it's the most powerful element in crafting this creature that we epitomize, idealize, and despise -- The Alpha Male.
Primate Discussions with Alpha Males of the Ape Persuasion
Whether or not you embrace the idea of evolution, there's little evidence with which to deny the existence of a genetic link between humans and our ape relatives. In his alpha male studies, Mark Foster used this connection to find evidence to counter the idea that the biggest, strongest male is always alpha. In a report published in the American Journal of Primatology in 2009, he details his findings.
Foster's study followed the shifts in power among 3 chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania between 1989 and 2003. The activities of 3 male chimpanzees were chronicled: Frodo (112.6 pounds), Wilkie (81.4 pounds), and Freud (98.6 pounds). Frodo displayed typical alpha male behavior, literally throwing around his weight and his clout. At first blush, it would seem that he would hold onto his reign without much effort (beyond rearranging some chimp faces).
But, in a shocking revelation of testosterone-inadequacy-turned-on-its-head, Wilkie usurped power for a period, simply by obsessively grooming male and female members of the group. Additionally, Freud seized the throne for a period by using a combination of physical dominance and servitude grooming. Interesting in this study is that the amount of grooming necessary for alpha dominance directly correlated to the chimps' body sizes (the bigger the chimp, the less necessary grooming seemed to be).
Probably the true alpha in this setting, Frodo would accept grooming from other chimpanzees, but rarely returned the favor. He fits the stereotypical alpha male figure because he bends over backward for no one. He simply knows he doesn't have to waste the energy -- he's got it in the bag…the testosterone, that is.
And, in true political fashion, Wilkie and Freud knew that they were lesser when compared to Frodo, but could still approach the situation with diplomacy to score a chance at top chimp in the social, sexual, and food departments. Likely beta males (because they didn't hold onto the throne with anarchy), they took their spotlights by tiptoeing around the testosterone issue.
In another recent study, Male Chimpanzees Exchange Political Support for Mating Opportunities, John Hawks tells the Current Biology community of his observations in alpha and beta male sexual coalitions in the Kanyawara chimp community.
10 male chimpanzees were observed for a total of 22 months. Knowing that higher alpha rank leads to better mating success, Hawks wondered if it led to the ONLY mating success. Surprisingly, he found political behavior that rivaled that of Washington itself.
Just as human males seem to rove in packs, with one alpha male who has his choice of women, followed by a collection of beta males who share in the leftover resources, the alpha Kanyawara chimp tolerated mating between his subordinate males and the tribe's females. Why? Because his own "wingchimps" supported him in physical conflicts that could potentially threaten his alpha status.
This study worked for both the alpha male and the beta males. The betas earned rights to mating, while the alpha maintained his position because of the help he had enlisted.
Democracy Dips Betas and Omegas in Relative Sexual Abundance
I know, the sexual scene might seem bleak for you beta males, and downright barren for you omegas, but sometimes encouragement can come in a tightly wound comparison.
Next time you're passed over for the virile male taking up two barstools to your left, consider your timeline alternatives:
In 13th Century South America, the Incan civilization saw what could be described as alpha-dom. Its ruler, Atahualpa, enjoyed his choice of 1500 women, divided among a splattering of harems, scattered around his kingdom. According to Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, other powerful men were permitted to own harems, also, but with limitations:
• Great lords, 700 women
• Principal men, 50 women
• Leaders of vassal nations, 30 women
• Heads of provinces including 1,000 people, 20 women
• Leaders of 1,000 people, 15 women
• Administrators of 500 people, 12 women
• Governors of 100 people, 8 women
• Petty chiefs of 50 or more people, 7 women
• Chiefs of 10 men, 5 women
• Chiefs of 5 men, 3 women
Later, in the 17th Century, the Dahomey civilization in West Africa was ruled by a king who enjoyed having his choice of all women under his rule (it equated to thousands, literally). If there were any he didn't deem pretty enough, he would hand them over to the male subjects whom he held in high favor (early wingmen?).
These examples of alpha maleness in early civilizations hold large portions of responsibility for commoner uprisings and rapes. Just imagine how many sexually frustrated men were wandering the streets. In the Incan civilization, if a man was found violating any harem member who didn't belong to him, his village would be destroyed, along with all of the people who inhabited it.
Throughout history, sex has been power and power has been sex. When a leader scored the throne, he also set himself up to score daily in all other areas. And in circular fashion, if he was virile enough to grasp the attention of the men and women around him, he likely had the gumption to seize that throne.
So, why the fading of alpha-dom in modern-day society? As the chimpanzees in earlier examples have already seemed to grasp, it was political. Some might argue that religion dictated monogamy, but not so: religion existed alongside these monopolized sex fests.
The dawn of democracy had more to do with the abolition of the alpha males' tyrannical procreation role than any other historical timeline bullet. Why? Because it gave the same voice to the sex-starved peasant that it did to the over-sexed ruler. Suddenly, power was more evenly distributed, as was the access to sex.
The powerful Clintons and Tigers of today surely pale in escapade comparison to the rulers of ancient civilizations, but there's hope, guys: their beta chauffeurs and omega caddies have since taken up the slack.
Fertile Myrtle and her Nose's Alpha Male Addiction
Pheromones. They're largely undetectable, but powerful, olfactory triggers that aid in mate selection. You've likely heard of them before…but did you know that the alpha male's pheromones are not only more potent than the average man's, but that they hold the power to turn women into alpha pheromone addicts?
In a 2007 study, published in Nature Neuroscience, female mice were exposed to 3 different scents: coconut, almond, and the urine of dominant male mice. Each group of female mice was only exposed to one scent, for periods of 2 and 7 days.
After examining the brains of the female mice, 2 days of exposure to the scents showed no neurological changes. But, after 7 days, the female mice that were bedded with the alpha male urine experienced neurogenesis (the generation of new brain cells). Not only did the scent of the dominant male pheromones trigger increases in brain function, but those female mice would have nothing to do with beta or omega mice after a week surrounded by alpha aroma. Their new brain cells contributed to mate selection, essentially converting them to alpha addicts.
There's evidence to suggest that human females experience much of the same effect, particularly when they're given the opportunity to sleep with an alpha male's scent for a period of time.
Androstenone, emitted by human males, has been proven to be highly attractive to a large percentage of females, when those females are ovulating. Of course, individual preferences, and the strengths of those preferences, vary, but sweat studies have concluded that sensitivity to androstenone increases with exposure (sound like any mice you know?)
Additionally, androstadienone, another pheromone excreted by human males, triggers cortisol release in women. This cortisol causes women to overcome psychological concerns surrounding a potential sexual partner, experience a sense of euphoria, and to shed inhibition.
So, you might ask, how do these two male pheromones connect to the alpha male? I'm glad you asked. You see, both of these pheromones are derivatives of testosterone. We all know by now that true alpha males have higher levels of testosterone than that average male. Therefore, more of these female euphoria-inducing chemicals will be excreted from an alpha male.
Finally; a credible biological answer to Rod Stewart's lament.
He Speaks…The Linguistic Tendencies of the Alpha Male
We've already talked about the pregnant pause -- a tactic an alpha male might use to keep his listeners in suspense and at attention. But how about other facets of the alpha male's voice?
The depth of the voice can indicate alpha dominance. Because high testosterone levels deepen the voice, the chances of an alpha male sporting a low voice are high. This is a gamble of likelihoods, but not a foolproof method for identifying the alpha male.
A deep voice is perceived as more dominant, possibly intimidating to other men, but a man's attentiveness to the depth of other men's voices has nothing to do with his perception of his own dominance. In other words, you probably won't find an alpha male consciously attempting to dominant "high talkers" (boy, I owe Seinfeld a thank-you call later).
Earlier, we talked about conversational dominance with questioning. This is a great tool for identifying the alpha male, but what if you're on the interrogation end of the Spanish Inquisition? It's actually very important that you turn those tables, because if you get caught up in a question-answering loop, you'll have difficulty escaping with your pride intact.
If questions are being fired at you, turn one around. If you're asked how old you are, make a joke about your plastic surgeon being held under oath, or ask the alpha interviewer to guess (this shifts the power), or evade the question with something like, "Much older than you, youngster." Of course, your situation (bar or conference room) will determine the amount of liberty you can take with the flip, but unless you want to find yourself under his linguistic power, there must be at least a bit of tongue tying induced by you.
Also, watch for responses like, "Anytime," or "That was nothing," after thanking the alpha male for his help. Alpha males rarely jump up to assist. They'll generally wait to be asked, and when they respond in ways such as these, it simply means that what you asked them to do was insignificant in the scope of their pool of resources and talents. There's a significant possibility that you've been dissed, small fry.
Tips for the Reluctant Beta Male
Are you envious of the alpha male position? Have you found yourself wishing for the action that your testosterone-laden cohorts land? Or wanting for the attention, success, and ease that they enjoy?
If you can break the beta circuit, alpha status can be within your grasp. Often, reluctant betas have difficulty breaking out of their current social and sexual statuses because they aren't able to sustain a positive testosterone loop.
The average beta male experiences a jump in his cortisol level before competition (in the conference room, on the single's cruise, or on the ballfield). This cortisol excretion occurs when the beta male anticipates competition with stress or anxiety.
Conversely, the alpha male is more likely to experience a hike in testosterone levels before competition, especially if he possesses a high power or status motivation. When he wins (which he probably will), he'll experience a rise in testosterone as a result of the win. Social success and sexual intercourse bring heightened testosterone levels, so the alpha male often experiences a positive testosterone loop, which equates to a "can't lose" mindset about himself, all or most of the time.
If you're having trouble breaking the beta cycle, start by striking these cortisol-induced behaviors from your repertoire:
• Fidgeting and repetitive motions (alpha males are comfortable in their space)
• Arm folding (alpha males need no protective gestures)
• Shoulder slumping (alpha males have no evident worries or lack of confidence)
• Being too eager to please (alpha males please simply by being)
• Speaking too quickly (alpha males speak slowly because they do not fear being interrupted)
• Being overly impressed (alpha males are not overly complimentary -- they don't have to be)
• Darting eyes (alpha males aren't fearful)
• Apologizing too much (alpha males think they have little to apologize for)
• Worrying about people liking you (alpha males are well-liked, and they know it)
• Looking for praise (alpha males already know they're good)
Once you've stricken the anxious and under-confident body language from your mannerisms, you'll probably notice that some alpha male behavior will sneak in. But just in case it doesn't, here are some suggestions for increasing your alpha maleness:
• Inseminate your conversation with pregnant pauses (because you own the air waves)
• Avoid answering probing or incessant questions (you simply don't have to)
• Make strong, enduring eye contact (let go only when you're bored, never when you're defeated)
• Hold your chin high (this exposes your neck, because you have no fear from literal or figurative attackers)
• Move slowly and deliberately (force others to move on your schedule)
• Speak in a lower register (let them hear your testosterone)
• Speak loudly, when appropriate (demand attention)
• Take up space with legs, arms, shoulders, and chest (you own the air space)
• Breathe deeply, with your diaphragm (because you're confident, without shallow breathing)
• Shakes hands with your palm down (this puts you on top, where you know you are)
• Relax (confident men are poised and calm)
Your Alpha Male Aspirations
There's no wonder that many beta males strive to grasp the alpha throne. Alpha males not only hold the power to influence others' thinking, opinions, perceptions, and actions, but they seem to grasp and hold onto all of the best things for themselves: money, success, status, friends, and women.
I guess it doesn't seem fair for the betas and omegas being pecked to the bottom of the order, but there is hope. Think back to the chimps who groomed tribe members in order to gain clout. Or, how about those wing(men)chimps? It's difficult to deny the correlation between these studies and the corporate world, social life, and politics. Sometimes brains and sensitivity do win out over brawn.
If you're an alpha male, you can consider yourself to be blessed. If you're a reluctant beta male, consider all things possible. And for the rest of the male population, it can be helpful to remember than human women are not mice, nor are they chimps. They have much more diverse criteria for choosing mates. They're looking for varying degrees of prestige, intelligence, power, wealth, health, fertility, attitudes, and convictions -- and one alpha male profile doesn't fit all. In fact, if you're a beta male, or even an omega male, it's important that you get to work now…to either transform yourself into the alpha male that you dream of being, or to grasp your woman now, before she gets a good whiff of androstenone.