April 24, 2012

Is your boss a baboon? You’re quite correct

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:07

Matt Ridley reviews a new book, Games Primates Play by Dario Maestripieri:

Generally, junior professors write long and unsolicited emails to senior professors, who reply with short ones after a delay; the juniors then reply quickly and at length. This is not because the seniors are busier, for they, too, write longer and more punctually when addressing their deans and funders, who reply more briefly and tardily. The asymmetry in length and speed of reply correlates with dominance.

When a subordinate chimpanzee grooms a dominant one, it often does so for a long time and unsolicited. When it then requests to be groomed in turn, it receives only a brief grooming and usually after having to ask a second time.

[. . .]

He observes two university colleagues in a coffee shop and notes how the senior one takes the chair with the back to the wall (the better to spot attacks by rivals or leopards), is less attentive to her colleague’s remarks than vice versa, stares down her colleague when a contentious issue comes up and takes the lead on walking out the door at the end-all of it neatly corresponding to the behavior of two baboons when one is dominant.

(A new member of a committee on which I served once asked me why a senior colleague was being so horrible to him. I replied: “Oh, it’s because when a new male baboon joins a troop, it’s traditional for the alpha male to beat him up before becoming his best friend — soon he’ll think the world of you.” I was right.)

It includes a fascinating insight into the benefits and problems of peer review.

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