The Emergence of Dominance Hierarchies

Fighting in every meeting with another person is not a good tactic. The loser risks harm or death and would have been better off giving in—renouncing its territory, food, or mate—from the beginning. Fighting is also expensive for the winner. In addition to the risk of damage in the war, winners devote valuable energy resources, time, and opportunities.

Therefore, both losers and winners would benefit if they could predict who would win ahead of time and proclaim a winner without incurring the expenses of battling. By yielding, the loser can escape alive and unscathed. Although the loser has given up a resource for the time being, he or she can go elsewhere when opportunities arise, or the loser might lie low and wait for a better opportunity to challenge.

What is the Emergence of Dominance Hierarchies?

A dominance hierarchy, in functional terms, refers to the reality that certain people within a group consistently receive better access than others to vital resources—resources that contribute to survival or reproduction. Those at the top of the hierarchy have more access to these resources; those at the bottom or bottom have less access. Dominance hierarchies are transitive in their most basic form, which means that if A is dominant over B and B is dominant over C, then A will be dominant over C. Dominance hierarchies have been seen in many nonhuman creatures, including crayfish and chimps.

Dominance hierarchies exist in many species, including primates, birds, and insects. The emergence of control can significantly impact individual behavior, group dynamics, and even the hierarchy members' physical and psychological health. In primate societies, individuals establish a hierarchy based on physical aggression, intimidation, and other supremacy displays. The alpha male or female is typically the most dominant member of the group and has access to the best resources, including mates and food.

In birds, dominance hierarchies can be established through vocalization, displays, or physical combat, while in insects, hierarchies can be established based on size, age, or other physical traits. In the animal kingdom, many species organize themselves into social groups, with individuals competing for resources such as food, mates, and shelter. As a result, supremacy emerges, where individuals establish a ranking based on their ability to assert dominance over others. These hierarchies can significantly impact individual behavior, group dynamics, and even the physical and psychological health of members within the hierarchy.

Selection will encourage the evolution of evaluation abilities—psychological mechanisms that appraise one's combat ability compared to others. These evaluation processes in humans are likely to be extensive, going beyond sheer physical brawn to include the capacity to mobilize powerful friends, allies, and relatives. Upon assessment, dominance and submissiveness methods can both serve a purpose. Each primary job is to avoid costly conflicts when the results of conflict can be predicted ahead of time.

Of course, there are situations when the outcome is unknown. The numerous bluffs, bellows, and hair-on-ends may be used to overstate players' prowess and cause another to back down prematurely. However, selection would favor seeing through these bluffs since animals that succumbed prematurely or unnecessarily would lose access to valuable resources. The crucial idea is that both dominating and submissive techniques have a purpose for the individual. They generate a dominant hierarchy when combined.

Determinants of Dominance Hierarchy in Society

Various factors can drive society, including access to resources, social norms and values, and individual characteristics such as age, size, and strength. In many cases, control hierarchy arises to reduce competition for resources such as food, water, and shelter, with dominant individuals gaining preferential access. Additionally, social norms and values may reinforce the idea that specific individuals or groups are "naturally" more dominant than others, creating a system of social stratification based on perceived status or power.

Finally, individual characteristics such as age, size, and strength may play a role in determining supremacy, with larger and stronger individuals often having an advantage in asserting their dominance over others. However, it is essential to note that control is not always precise or set in society and can be affected by various contextual variables such as environmental circumstances, social connections, and individual experiences.

Evolution of Dominance Hierarchy

The evolution of dominance hierarchy is a complicated process that has been influenced over time by several variables. Some of the significant elements that have affected the development of this hierarchy are as follows −

Resource Availability

Supremacy order often develops due to rivalry for food, water, and refuge. Individuals may fight more fiercely for access to scarce resources in settings where resources are scarce, resulting in the development of a hegemony order.

Social Structure

The number and makeup of social organizations can also impact the development of this hierarchy. In big social groups, for example, the supremacy hierarchy may be more complicated and multi-layered, with numerous dominant people competing for control.

Sexual Selection

As individuals fight for mate access, sexual selection can determine supremacy hierarchy. Dominant people may have higher reproductive success in many species, developing characteristics that support supremacy.

Genetic Factors

Because specific leadership characteristics are heritable, genetic factors can also play a part in developing command order. Natural selection can work on these characteristics over time, developing more complicated and nuanced types of this hierarchy.

Cultural Factors

Finally, societal variables can impact the development of the control hierarchy. Social learning and imitation, for example, may play a part in creating dominant interactions between people in some species.

Overall, the development of control order is a dynamic and multifaceted process molded over time by various variables. While the exact processes underpinning the evolution of this hierarchy differ between species and contexts, it is evident that these hierarchies have played a significant role in shaping social behavior and group dynamics in a wide variety of animals, including humans.

Examples from Animal Species

Crickets recall their past victories and defeats in bouts with other crickets. If a cricket consistently wins bouts, it grows more aggressive in subsequent encounters. Conversely, if it loses many bouts, it will grow meek and avoid future conflicts. The evolutionary scientist Richard Alexander saw this behavior experimentally when he introduced a "model" cricket that outcompeted other crickets.

The crickets were more likely to lose subsequent battles when confronting real insects after being beaten up by the model. It is as though each cricket assessed its fighting capabilities compared to others and acted accordingly. Through time, a dominant hierarchy formed, in which each cricket was assigned a rank order, with lower-ranking crickets yielding to those higher up. Male crickets that have recently triumphed are more eager to solicit the sexual favors of female crickets.

Across the animal kingdom, similar events occur. The term "pecking order" derives from hen behavior. When chickens initially get together, they quarrel a lot. However, the fighting eventually stops because each hen learns she is dominant over particular chickens but subservient to others. This pecking order is stable and provides "benefits to each hen." Dominant hens benefit by not engaging in a costly battle to maintain their status.

Subordinate chickens benefit because they avoid injury from confronting the dominant hens. It is vital to remember that this pecking order, or dominance hierarchy, serves no purpose in and of itself. The hierarchy is a collective attribute, not an individual trait. Instead, each hen's strategy has a purpose, and when combined, they build a stable hierarchy. This implies that we must analyze both the functions of being submissive and the functions of being dominating.

Impacts of Dominance Hierarchy on Individual Behaviour

Control can also significantly impact individual behavior, particularly stress levels, resource access, and reproductive opportunities. Individuals in the hierarchy often have better access to resources such as food, mates, and shelter, leading to tremendous reproductive success and higher social status. Individuals lower in the hierarchy may experience increased stress, reduced access to resources, and even physical harm from more dominant individuals.

On the other hand, individuals lower in the hierarchy may experience increased stress, reduced access to resources, and even physical harm from more dominant individuals. This can lead to changes in behavior, including increased submissiveness, reduced exploration of new environments, and decreased engagement in social activities.

In extreme cases, individuals may experience adverse health outcomes, such as decreased immune function, increased risk of disease, and shortened lifespan. Overall, the impacts of supremacy hierarchy on individual behavior can be complex and far-reaching, influencing everything from reproductive success to social interactions to physical and mental health.

Impacts of Dominance Hierarchy on Group Dynamics

Dominance hierarchy can significantly impact group dynamics, affecting everything from cooperation to conflict within the group. On the one hand, supremacy hierarchy can promote cooperation by reducing resource competition, establishing clear roles and responsibilities, and providing a sense of social order. For example, in many primate societies, lower-ranking individuals may groom higher-ranking individuals to form alliances and gain access to resources.

On the other hand, control hierarchy can also lead to increased conflict within the group as individuals compete for access to resources and try to assert their control over others. This can create tension, aggression, and even physical harm between group members.

Moreover, the presence of a dominant individual can create an imbalance of power, limiting the ability of other group members to express their needs or preferences. Overall, the impacts of this hierarchy on group dynamics can be complex and multifaceted, influencing everything from social cohesion to power dynamics to the overall success of the group.


Dominance hierarchies are fascinating and complex, found across species. They promote cooperation and reduce competition for resources but can also lead to conflict and adverse health outcomes for those lower in the hierarchy. Further research can help us understand the evolution and impact on individuals and communities.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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