Frans de Waal

The surprising science of alpha males

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About Frans de Waal

Dutch/American biologist and ethologist Frans de Waal draws parallels between primate and human behavior, from peacemaking and morality to culture. Looking at human society through the lens of animal behavior, Frans' first book, Chimpanzee Politics (1982), compares the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. Named one of the 100 Most Influential People Today by Time Magazine, Frans has written hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific articles, and his popular books have been translated in over 20 languages. He is a professor in Emory University's psychology department and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, in Atlanta. His next book is on animal and human emotions, entitled Mama's Last Hug (Norton, 2019).

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About This Talk

While popular culture uses the term "alpha male" to refer to people who are controlling or even bullying, in nature, an “alpha” is the highest ranking member of one’s sex and the animal that often assumes a leadership role. Frans de Waal, a primatologist and ethologist at Emory University, explores the ways that human behavior around community, solidarity, and leadership is directly linked to the behavior of primates, adding context to our understanding of what it means to be a human “alpha” female or male.

Watch Frans’ 2017 TEDMED Talk for his keen observations on how human social structure mirrors primate social structure and how analyzing these patterns can yield rich insights into our own society, what we value, and how we choose our leaders.

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