The Dominance Hierarchy and Male Attractiveness

Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching a series of lectures by the psychologist Jordan Peterson, in which he explains the function of the male dominance hierarchy and its relationship to sexual selection. These evolutionary psychology concepts have clear implications for those of us who would like to improve our own success with women, but can be a bit opaque to the lay reader. I’m going to make it more accessible.

Genetic testing of modern humans has led scientists to estimate that historically about 80% of women and only about 40% of men have been able to reproduce successfully. If you’re wondering how the sexes could be so mismatched, it means that every reproductively successful man impregnated two women on average.

A woman can only be impregnated by one man every nine months, at maximum. Whereas one man could theoretically impregnate a thousand women during that same timespan. Since the number of men and women is about equal, this makes female reproductive capacity far more scarce–and thus far more economically valuable–than male reproductive capacity. This means that women are the primary agents of sexual selection.

What that means, in English, is that women are in general a lot more picky about choosing men than men are about choosing women. It also means that as a man, the deck is stacked against you. This means that you are more likely than not to FAIL at having sex with women. That is, unless you can get into that top 40%. Average won’t cut it.

The Dominance Hierarchy

So how do women choose which men are worthy of their scarce vaginas? The answer, curiously, is that men choose themselves. They do this by way of a dominance hierarchy. A dominance hierarchy is a natural, spontaneous ordering of males from most dominant to least dominant. You can envision a dominance hierarchy as similar to a corporate org chart. It is pyramid shaped, with the CEO at the top, the other executives under him, the middle management under them, etc., until you get to the grunt workers at the bottom.

dominance hierarchy corporate org chart

A dominance hierarchy looks a lot like a corporate org chart

All species of social animals have some form of dominance hierarchy. For some animals, this hierarchy is ordered according to a single factor, such as physical size. This is the case for the elephant seal, for example. A male elephant seal can determine his place on the hierarchy very easily. If he is the largest male, he is the alpha, and he is entitled to all the females. If he is not the largest, then he is a beta male, and is not entitled to mate with the females. If a beta tries to mate with a female, the female will loudly protest, and the beta male risks being physically harmed by the more powerful alpha male. Therefore the beta male elephant seal has an instinctual fear of trying to mate with females, since doing so would put his life in jeopardy.

The human dominance hierarchy is far more complicated than that of the elephant seal, but shares the same basic functioning. Every human male instinctively knows his place in the dominance hierarchy, and our subconscious minds guide our behavior and feelings accordingly in various situations. Approach anxiety, for example, is our instinctive reaction to the prospect of hitting on a girl to whom we are not entitled, given our place in the dominance hierarchy. It is the same as the aversion felt by the beta male elephant seal that keeps him from mating with the females.

Also like the elephant seal, a woman’s interest in mating with a man is determined by his place on the dominance hierarchy. A man who mates with a woman by force is similarly punished by higher ranking men. And in more primitive cultures, even hitting on a woman to whom a man is not entitled is grounds for physical punishment. In modern society, such men get by with the rather minor punishment of being called “creepy” by onlookers and other such displays of social disapproval.

But unlike the elephant seal, the human male dominance hierarchy is quite complex. And one man is likely to be a part of multiple dominance hierarchies at the same time. Some hierarchies are clearly delineated. A CEO is the alpha male in his company’s dominance hierarchy. The Head of State of a country is the alpha male in his country’s political structure.

Other hierarchies are less obvious. A rock star or a movie star may be high in a dominance hierarchy, despite perhaps not having anyone formally working for him. Dominance is determined by a number of factors beyond formal authority. Physical size, strength, wealth, fame, intelligence, attractiveness, creativity, personality, and a variety of other characteristics can factor into a man’s place in a dominance hierarchy.

So how does anybody figure out who is where on such a complicated hierarchy? The answer is that we place ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We each have a deeply ingrained perception of our own status, and we size up other males and compare ourselves to them. We do most of this on a subconscious level.

If you are a typical guy, and you find yourself face to face with a famous rock star, you are instinctively going to judge his place on the dominance hierarchy as higher than yours, and you will act in a way that is deferential to his higher status. Similarly, if you are face to face with a beggar on the street, you will naturally expect him, being of lower status, to defer to you. We defer to those whom we deem higher status than ourselves, because deferring is easier than getting into a fight we are likely to lose, or risking alienation by society as a whole.

Your subconscious mind will make this comparison with just about every other man with whom you interact. Most of the time the comparison will be less obvious to your conscious mind. But your subconscious is extremely observant. It will pick up the tiniest cues from another man’s posture, vocal tone, movement, word choice, body language, etc. to make this determination.

Sometimes it is not immediately clear which man holds the higher position. Let’s say you and another guy both judge yourselves to be higher status than the other. In this case it largely comes down to conviction. If you are more convinced of your higher status, he will pick up on that from your body language, and will reassess your status as higher than his own.

The subconscious minds of women are also very adept at determining men’s place on the male dominance hierarchy. Women are attracted to men who have a high position in the hierarchy. You’ve probably heard a million times that the most attractive characteristic in a man is confidence. This is basically true, but I’m going to be more specific. The most attractive characteristic in a man is his own conception of his high position on the dominance hierarchy. This looks a lot like confidence.

And it shows. Men have been trying to fake confidence (i.e. a high position in the dominance hierarchy) in the presence of women for millennia. This is very difficult to do, because women are very adept at deciphering tiny signals and can instinctively spot fakers.

This leads us to the obvious question: where does our conception of our own position on the dominance hierarchy come from? This where it gets tricky. Our subconscious mind has built our self conception on the accumulation of our entire lifetime’s worth of experiences, including during childhood. A kid who was bullied in school, abused by his parents, or rejected by other kids may well grow up to have a rather negative conception of himself. Even if he becomes rich and good looking, he may still carry this negative self-conception as a relic of his formative experiences.

If you’ve ever seen a tall, handsome, well-dressed guy timidly try to start a conversation with a girl and get coldly rejected (happens all the time), something like this is the issue. And it only compounds itself. Every time he gets rejected, it reinforces his assessment of himself as low on the dominance hierarchy. It’s a very difficult cycle to break.

So is it possible to improve your subconscious conception of your own place in the dominance hierarchy? The answer, thankfully, is yes. Your subconscious generalizes from examples. You need to give it new examples that show that your position has changed and you’ve managed to move up to a higher position on the dominance hierarchy. As luck would have it, I’m going to tell you exactly how you can do this.

Step One: Realize that hitting on girls is not actually dangerous

Before you can start focusing on success with women, you have to get rid of your fear of trying. If you are naturally a beta male, as most men are, you are going to have some anxiety when hitting on girls. You need to accept your fear (which is totally normal), and face it.

Do exactly what you are afraid to do. Go talk to women. The more uncomfortable it makes you, the better. The less alcohol involved, the better. I have a great program to gradually ease you into it, which you can find here.

You will almost certainly get rejected a lot at first. That’s ok. Your purpose in this step is simply to show your subconscious mind that nothing truly bad happens when you hit on girls. If you live in a modern Western society, nobody is going to come chop your head off because you talked to a girl to whom you were not entitled. The more your subconscious sees that there is no real danger, the less anxiety you will have around attractive women.

Step Two: Convince yourself that you are attractive to women

Ok, for step one let’s say you’ve talked to 100 women and been rejected by all of them. You’ve also managed to subdue (to a large extent) your fear of talking to women. Your subconscious still believes that you are low on the dominance hierarchy and unworthy of attractive women, and those 100 rejections didn’t help. Now you have to start working to remove that self-image.

What you need is a large supply of experiences during which you were successful with women. If you have a negative self image, chances are you have many more negative experiences than positive. This reinforces your negative self image. If you hit on a girl, your negative self image is going to turn her off, and she’s going to reject you. It’s a catch 22. You’re out of luck…right?

NO! This part of your brain can be hacked. You can trick your brain by implanting experiences that you never actually had in real life, as well as by repeating the good experiences you have had in the past. As it turns out, this part of your brain is incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy. All you have to do is visualize. Play in your mind scenarios, which can be real OR imagined, in which you’re interacting with people and they are reacting positively to you. I recommend imagining interactions with both men and women, since both are related to your place on the dominance hierarchy.

This is called a visualization exercise, and the more you repeat it, the better. Many professional athletes and powerful businessmen use visualization exercises to enhance their performance. It works. I’ve had great success using them to help me in my interactions with women as well. The more often you do it, the better it will work. The new positive experiences will eventually overwhelm the old negative experiences, and your subconscious will gradually move you up the dominance hierarchy.

Another exercise that I’ve found helpful is watching infield videos of guys successfully picking up girls. But–this is important–you have to be able to identify with the guys in the videos. If you watch the video and think “He’s much better looking than me. I could never do that”, you’re not helping. But if you think “hey, I could do that!” and actually imagine yourself doing it, you’re giving your subconscious a positive experience, with the added benefit of getting a better idea of how women respond in the real world.

You can assess your progress by gauging your own instinctual reactions to real or imagined interactions with other people. For example, let’s say you pass a pretty girl on the street. Visualize what her response would be if you went up to introduce yourself to her. Don’t try to push it one way or the other, just let your subconscious create the image.

If the first image you get is of the girl being attracted to you and happy that you introduced yourself, your self-imposed position on the dominance hierarchy has risen. If, on the other hand, the first thing you imagine is her responding with “Ew, get away from me, creep!”, then you clearly have more work to do. You can reassess every once in a while during your visualization practice, and be sure to appreciate the progression through the many shades of grey between believing you’re an ugly repulsive worm and believing you’re James Bond.

Step Three: Start accumulating positive experiences with real people

Visualization is great for manipulating your self-image. But it doesn’t adequately prepare you to anticipate people’s responses in real life. If you’ve never considered yourself high status before, you may not have much reference experience of how people respond to high status men. Now is the time to start seeking out real life interactions with which to apply your new conception of yourself as high on the dominance hierarchy. Again, I recommend going for interactions with both men and women.

This part is very satisfying. You will notice both men and women respond to you far more favorably. Men will be happy to listen to you talk, respect your opinions, and look for your approval and friendship. Women will look at you more, “accidentally” bump into you, display submissive body language to you, and be happy to get to talk to you. It feels great, and you should enjoy it.

The more you interact with people while instinctually believing that you are a high dominance man, the more you will cement that belief into your subconscious mind. Your success with women will constantly improve. And when you do have bad days (which you will; nobody is perfect), you can fall back on your positive visualizations, which will get your subconscious back in its proper place.




One thought on “The Dominance Hierarchy and Male Attractiveness

  1. Wow that’s a lot to digest. Makes a lot more sense than the typical “just go approach a lot” advice everyone else seems to be giving.

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