Girls On Top!

by Michael Bell

University of Groningen researchers were surprised to find that female monkeys are more dominant when they live in groups with a higher percentage of males.

This would have been no news to Queen Elizabeth I or Margaret Thatcher, each of whom was highly successful in dominating the clever men who surrounded them. And both of them made sure that no other woman could threaten their dominance.

The researchers, led by Charlotte Hemelrijk, theoretical biologist at the University, and assisted by her former PhD student, Dr. Jan Wantia and a Swiss anthropologist, Dr. Karin Isler, created a virtual world, Domworld, with which they could simulate interactions between monkeys, in order to discover how female dominance develops.

Domworld predicted females to be more dominant in a group with a relatively large number of males, and that this would result from 'self-organization' rather than from inherited size and strength; to verify this prediction, one that was unexpected by the researchers, they analyzed the literature for evidence, showing the predictions of the computer model to be accurate. Margaret Thatcher was smaller than every other member of her cabinet, by the way, and it was only on Spitting Image that she hand-bagged her ministers.

"This is an interesting way of conducting research," says Hemelrijk. "You discover something unexpected in the virtual world and then you test your findings in the real world."

What does this say about virtual reality worlds? Perhaps someone could study dominance relationships in virtual social groupings to see how it plays out for humans. There are some kickers, though: a male can have a female atavar, or vice versa, and there are other possible impersonations. But if behaviour is based on who you think you're dealing with, rather than the truth (doesn't that sound like real life?) maybe it wouldn't make a difference.

Do mostly male raiding parties in World of Warcraft sometimes have one or a small number of women members? How dominant are they?

Let me know! Perhaps we can develop a theory of virtual dominance behaviour.



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