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Dominance in the context of biology and anthropology is the state of having high social status relative to one or more other individuals, who react submissively to dominant individuals. This enables the dominant individual to obtain access to resources such as food or access to potential mates, at the expense of the submissive individual, without active aggression. The opposite of dominance is submissiveness. Dominance may be established by fighting, or merely by threatening displays or interchanges; once established, however, dominance relationships may reduce the level of aggression between the individuals concerned.
Dominance may be a purely dyadic relationship, in which case the fact that individual A is dominant over B has no implications for whether or not either of them is dominant over a third individual C. Alternatively, dominance may be hierarchical, with a transitive relationship, so that if A dominates B and B dominates C, A always dominates C. This is called a linear dominance hierarchy or pecking order.
In hierarchical societies, the dominant individual in a group may exert control over others; more commonly, however, decision-taking about the actions of the group is dissociated from social dominance.
In animal societies, dominance is typically variable across time (as individuals age, gain or lose social status, or change their reproductive condition), across space (in territorial animals, territory owners are dominant over all others on their own territory but submissive elsewhere) or across resources. Even with these factors held constant, perfect Dominance hierarchies are rarely found in groups of any size (at least in the wild; dominance hierarchies may be more frequently found in captivity, since they tend to be induced by focused resources such as limited supplies of food supplied in a fixed place). Nonetheless, there are some species in which clear dominance hierarchies are seen, and in any case establishing the dominance relationships between individuals is the usual first step in describing the social relationships within any animal group
- Alpha male
- Display (zoology)
- Learned helplessness
- Pecking order
- Rowell, T. E. (1974). The concept of social dominance. Behavioral Biology, 11, 131-154.
- Hewitt, S. E., Macdonald, D. W., & Dugdale, H. L. (2009). Context-dependent linear dominance hierarchies in social groups of European badgers, Meles meles. Animal Behaviour, 77, 161-169.
- Rowell, op. cit.
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