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You’ve probably heard about “alpha males”. 

It is a label used to identify dominant individuals within a group. Usually, they assert their power through sheer force and aggression.

This concept derives from wolves and, despite being widely used, it is misleading.

The term “alpha wolf” was first coined by Rudolph Shenkel, a biologist who studied wolves’ behaviour in a German zoo in 1944. According to his observations, male and female wolves seemed to compete to become dominant within their group. 

The term became popular in 1970, when American biologist David Mech published his best-selling book, The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species.

Shenkel studied wolves in captivity when adult males and females where force together. As Mech discovered while observing wild wolves in the Arctic, wolf packs don’t form in the wild as they do in captivity.

When they are free, wolves form around family units. Dad is the “alpha male”, and mom is the “alpha female”. The rest of the pack follows their lead, not because they are the toughest but because it’s mom and dad.

When he made this discovery, Mech dedicated years to debunk the use of this term. He even tried to have his book removed from sales, but the book is still printed and published.

Thanks to his effort, the scientific community has abandoned the concept, but it is still widely used in mainstream culture.

So, if you like to think of yourself as an “alpha male”, just remember that it describes captive and imprisoned beings’ behaviour.

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

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