Is The Term ‘Alpha Male’ Actually A Lie And An Invention Of Pop Culture?

strong man 2022 11 04 00 54 02 utc

By Mayukh Saha / Truth Theory

The current craze of social media focuses quite intently upon the concept of an ‘alpha male’. Initially, it was thought that one could draw parallels between wolf packs and humans and establish a hierarchy that would be similar. But later, it was discovered that wolf packs actually don’t have alpha males or females. The researcher who had mistakenly coined the term did try to clear the confusion- but it stuck, thanks to the good old Internet.


According to IFLScience, it is a misconception that people have regarding a typical wolf pack. Most of us believe that wolf packs have a strict hierarchy with an alpha pair at the helm, but the situation is a lot different. There are no notions of beta and omega- as the reality is quite family-oriented. 

Yet, if we go by this, it would be pretty easy to assume that wolf packs are simply an ideal family. According to Thomas Gable, the project lead of the Voyageurs Wolf Project, their existing idea of a hierarchy did give way to the idea that packs are familial units. But one shouldn’t assume that the packs are a happy family, as there is definitely fierce competition between the pack mates for food and other resources. So there have been cases when a member of the pack would leave their pack to scrounge for resources elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is no information to posit that there is infighting between the packs to choose the leader. Rather, the parents end up leading- simply because they have bred. 

The Idea Of An Alpha Male In Humans Doesn’t Correspond With Wolves- Despite Its Origin

The popularization of the term alpha wolf resulted from the book The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, by Dr. L. David Mech in 1970. This book helped the spread of the word, even though the author tried to explain that the term itself was outdated. For over 30 years since then, Mech had been publishing a lot on the lifestyle of wolves, where he tried to fix the issue. He stated that after spending a lot more time with the wolves on Ellesmere Island, he found out that the alpha pair were simply the parents of the entire pack.

At this point, it is important that one realizes that the research conducted prior to this discovery had captive wolves as the subject. Now, there is a huge difference between how an animal behaves in their natural surroundings, and how they end up in captivity. It would be quite a big mistake to believe that the behavior will not change under such duress. 

Dr. Mech also mentioned that the only time the members of the pack would leave their existing pack was to find members of the opposite sex to mate with and form new packs. Once a wolf mates and bonds with another, it lasts until one of them die. There is also little to no fighting between the male offspring and the father for the status of the alpha wolf.

Humans And Primates- Twisted Strands of Evolution

On the other hand, Guardian did posit a theory regarding the similarity between alpha males in apes and humans- which was derived from Frans de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics. The book made direct comparisons between chimps and human behavior, and it became even more trendy when used to describe the presidential campaign of Al Gore. The term became even more mainstream when Neil Strauss’s The Game promoted it as something men should aspire to be. The book had lessons that the writer acquired from the Pick-Up Artist community. This does bring up several dubious points- with the foremost being the skepticism that is associated with pick-up artists. And yet, with the idea of possible sex being quite a motivator, the idea that being an alpha male could result in your life getting improved has seemed pretty beguiling to a large section of the population. 

There Is No Concept Of A Universal Alpha Male In Humans

The Guardian states, “One reason that, despite a lack of concrete evidence, the idea of the human alpha male is so persuasive is that it makes a great deal of intuitive sense.” We can all attest to the fact that there are big and loud guys all around us- and this just puts them in a label of their own. Also, it can be pretty hard to deny that humans aren’t influenced by social dominance. After all, we do exist in multiple hierarchies- and almost all of them are unequal in nature. Therefore, the Guardian believes, it should not be this far-fetched for one to think that there are men who rise to the top of the totem pole based on certain psychological and physical qualities. 

To Put It Succinctly, An Alpha Male Is Often A Bully

Also, it shouldn’t be surprising for us that men who seem like they have it all, and are supremely confident do appeal to certain sections of the population. But this doesn’t justify their presence. For- although there is a distinct similarity between humans and primates when it comes to this niche personality, the differences are far-reaching as well. Human hierarchies are far more complex- and someone who is at the top of one hierarchy could be at the lowest rung of another.

A universal alpha male is non-existent. Another point of contention that supposed alpha males conveniently forget is that there can only be a single alpha male in a community. And yet, social media is rife with groups where everyone considers themselves to be alpha males. Lest it is forgotten, the idea of an alpha male also brings up the question of an alpha female. In primates, the alpha female commands similar veins of respect and control. But in humans, it is a foregone conclusion that in order to be an alpha male or a ‘bad boy’, one has to be less respectful towards women, something that the Guardian comments on. 

In hindsight, the average alpha male, as described by Dean Burnett in his book The Idiot Brain, is someone who tries to get what he wants through displays of intimidation and some twisted pseudoscientific justification. These tactics are utilized because they find the universal dynamics around themselves too complex- which lets them resort to their baser instincts. 

Leave Comment: