Mazur Comm archer

From: MacLeod Julia (
Date: Mon Jun 01 1998 - 09:12:42 BST

> There are conceptual and empirical problems with their analysis. The
> conceptual one concerns the discussion of dominance. Considering
> dominance in animals and children, I (Archer, 1992) described three
> different levels to which the concept had been applied, group
> structure (as in "dominance hierarchy"), the dyadic or relationship,
> and the individual. At the individual level, dominance is a
> descriptive term, although it could be conceptualised as a personality
> variable. In animal studies, dominance has generally been used at the
> dyadic or group level. Mazur and Booth appear to have moved from
> dominance as a description of individual actions to assuming that
> animals must be motivated to strive for dominance. Dominance is
> therefore elevated to an intervening variable for individual
> behaviour, a tendency which has clouded analysis of the term
> throughout its history. <<

It may be clear to Archer that Mazur assumes animals to strive for
dominance, but that is not how I interpreted the article at all.
Mazure does equate dominance and aggression as equal partners in the
animal kingdom. However he appears to argue that higher primates are
often dominant in the absence of aggression, because they can
conceptualise that dominance can provide power etc. without risking
genetic suicide.

> Mazur and Booth's extraordinary statement that "It is not obvious why
> there would be selective advantage in aggressiveness per se" (section
> 1) ignores the very obvious advantages of aggression when competing
> for resources, protecting young and defence (Archer, 1988). Over half
> a century's ethological and psychological research on animal
> aggression shows that they fight for a variety of proximate reasons,
> such as invasions of territory, response to pain, or thwarted goals
> (Archer, 1988). In view of the potential costs of losing a fight,
> assessment of cues associated with the likely outcome occurs during
> the social exchanges that precede damaging physical contact (Parker,
> 1974), and animals readily learn the fighting abilities of former
> opponents (Barnard and Burk, 1979). Out of this process arises what an
> outside observer may refer to as one animal dominating another, but it
> does not follow that one animal possesses a motive to dominate, or
> that it is attempting to "outstress" the other, as Mazur and Booth
> suggested. Dominance is, therefore, a description of a pattern of
> social relations arising from the consequences of inequalities in the
> utcomes of aggressive encounters, which are themselves triggered by
> well-understood external cues. <<

Isn't this slightly contradictory? Archer argues that an aggressor
will weigh up the costs and benefits, yet earlier he argues against
the notion that animals can conceptualise the dis/advantages which
motivate dominance. External cues/social exchanges may be interpreted
as displays of dominance which precede aggression for gain, and
therefor be a descriptive term, but this is just splitting hairs.
Following these social exchanges/external cues/dominant behaviour
seems to be the point at which testosterone will rise to prepare the
competitors for challenge, but that won't necessarily mean mortal
combat!. Mazur appears to have ignored Lorenz's work on rituals and
acts of appeasement.

> Such human concepts as status, respect and power depend on being able
> to articulate these perceptions of inequality among other individuals.
> Ultimately, human status and power is based on the ability to provide
> a credible threat of physical force, as it is in the animal world. It
> is therefore unlikely at a conceptual level that dominance is the
> appropriate characterisation of whatever aspect of aggression-related
> behaviour - if any - is influenced by testosterone.<<

Dominance may not be the appropriate characterisation at a conceptual
level for animals, but just as distorted cognitions during periods of
stress and anxiety activate levels of adrenaline sufficient to
motivate a `fight or flight' response in humans, so it could be
conceivable that rising levels of testosterone will activate dominant
behaviour? Similarly not all dominant acts require the threat of
physical force, we experience and carry out dominant acts every day
but rarely if ever, do the majority of us receive or threaten physical

> A major problem with evaluating the hypothesis, presented in Mazur and
> Booth's article lies in the narrative form of their review. Where
> possible, meta-analytic techniques are increasingly being used to
> evaluate hypotheses. Meta- analysis eliminates the possibility of
> selective presentation of data, and impressionistic
> conclusion-forming, i.e. the conclusions become less prone to bias.<<

Sticky ground here. Meta analysis techniques might be used
increasingly more, but it doesn't make it infallable, meta analysis
tends to look at the mean and ignore the variance, it ignores single
case studies and fails to take account of poor methodology.

> A link with aggression has been found in previous research, but it is
> an inconsistent link (Archer,1994). The large sample study described
> in the target article showed an association (small in magnitude)
> between testosterone and a constellation of impulsive behaviours
> including aggressiveness and responses to challenge, greater variety
> and lesser stability of sexual relations, and occupational
> instability. I have suggested (Archer, 1994) that such data are best
> viewed in terms of a developmental model - any influence of
> testosterone interacts with the current disposition, which in turn is
> a product of developmental history, including influences throughout
> childhood when testosterone levels were low. The constellation of
> dispositions described above can be viewed as one of two contrasting
> evolved developmental pathways, the high testosterone one being
> associated with low parental investment and more overt intermale
> competition and more sexual partners, and the lower testosterone one
> with high parental investment, less intermale competition and fewer
> sexual partners.<<

Mazur has not argued for a link between testosterone and aggression,
in fact he states sharing the doubts expressed by Archer. He has made
it abundantly clear that the evidence to date is correlational, not
causal, he further points out that methodologies are frequently
flawed. Perhaps a developmental model as Archer proposes would provide
a worthy explanation, however, Mazur has noted negative, although
slight correlations between demographic data, e.g. education socio
economic status, etc. and testosterone. He further argues a uniform
distribution of testosterone across social classes, this would surely
negate any link to a developmental model? It would appear that in the
absence of experimental research to support or refute Mazur's proposal
of both a basal and reciprocal model (and he is the first person to
argue a need for empirical evidence) that it is premature to
criticise, what has not yet been established.

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