Image: ©iStockphoto.com/ Elvis Santana

An interdisciplinary working group at SFI March 28-30, “Dominance, Leveling, and Egalitarianism in Primates and Other Animals,” drew a top-notch group of researchers to explore social dominance and inequality in group-living primates and other animals.

SFI Professor Samuel Bowles says the meeting’s goal was to examine comparable cross-species measures of critical dimensions of these processes. Along with Sam, the group’s conveners included primatologists Carel Van Schaik (University of Zurich), Tim Clutton-Brock (University of Cambridge), and Joan Silk (UCLA), as well as UCLA anthropologist Robert Boyd, an SFI External Professor.

Members shared their latest studies of species that feature a range of behaviors reflecting dominance and inequality – from fiercely egalitarian African lionesses and “democratic” coalitions of subordinate baboons that challenge alpha males, to hierarchical animals such as female spotted hyenas.

“Knowledge of the dynamics contribut- ing to inequality and hierarchy among other animals may eventually allow us to better understand why humans at various points in our history and pre-history have been deliberately egalitarian, autocratically despotic, and just about everything in between,” Sam says.

The group is supported by the Behavioral Sciences Program at SFI, the European Science Foundation, and the U.S. National Science Foundation. 

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