Alpha males and females are the most empathetic… and the most stressed

A few months ago I was struck by the mention of a study of chimpanzee society that found that the leader tended to demonstrate deep caring and empathy for members of their pack; empathy ultimately being a necessary aspect of their personality that benefited their ability to rise and maintain a leadership position. Below, Leo Widrich has a terrific summary of the phenomenon:

Leo Widrich – The surprising science of alpha males & females: The most empathetic member of the group

One of the things that completely baffled me, but upon closer inspection, makes a lot of sense, was his finding that any alpha in a group of chimpanzees always happens to be the most empathetic member. He analyzed this by studying empathic behavior like consoling, hugging and other indicating moves. Although generally females in any group tend to offer more empathetic behavior to the members of the group, when it comes to the alpha, they show a level of empathy that is way off the charts compared to the rest.

A second insight that I took from de Waal’s research, was that the stress level of the highest-ranking members of a group, as he studied it in chimpanzees and bonobos were also the most stressed members of the group.

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