“If I had to define a major depression in a single sentence, I would describe it as a “genetic/neurochemical disorder requiring a strong environmental trigger whose characteristic manifestation is an inability to appreciate sunsets.”
― Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
Robert Sapolsky has studies troop of baboons in Africa. He came up with some interesting findings and based on his findings he has written books like “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” and “A Primate’s Memoir”
Another scientist Kay Holekamp studied pack of hyenas in Africa, she too has come up with some interesting findings.
Findings of Kay and Robert are useful to understand organisational dynamics.
In case of hyenas, the females are larger and more aggressive than males. An alpha female leads the pack. Within group females have higher rank, while males have lower rank. The status is ascribed i.e. it passes on from mother to cubs.
“A hyena will only attack a lower-ranking animal and is invariably submissive to a higher-ranking one…. every hyena knows just who is of higher rank, who is of lower rank and which allies are present,”
Males are not in a position to question the status and follow the rule. Any violation of rules means attack by female coalition and certain death. So, male will quietly accept humiliation to remain in pack. Due to their powerful jaws they are able to break bones and eat it. They don’t mind eating rotten flesh and rarely fall sick. After hunt it is females who get to eat the prey first, males have to eat whatever remains after feast i.e. bones. This equation has not changes for hundreds of years.
In case of baboons, the troop leader is alpha male, the females are less powerful and are usually submissive to alpha male. In troop there is clear hierarchy, those at lower ends are subject to abuses by those at the top of hierarchy. This constant abuse by bosses, creates lot of stress in lower order baboons.
Sapolsky in his study of baboons, found that compared to higher order baboons the lower order baboons had higher stress levels. Unlike hyenas they just don’t tolerate abuse and move on in life.
This can be applied to human organisations. In his book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” he gives example of zebra facing stress while facing lion. After the lion fails in his chase and zebra is safe, the stress is gone and zebra again starts grazing.
“If you’re stressed like a normal mammal in an acute physical crisis, the stress response is lifesaving. But if instead you chronically activate the stress response for reasons of psychological stress, your health suffers.”
― Robert M. Sapolsky
But in case of humans, the stress is not temporary, he is constantly under stress and this results in health problems.
The dominant baboons of the troop studies by Sapolsky were extra nasty to lower order male baboons and females. One day they ate meat from garbage dump, they wanted to have it for themselves so did not allow lower order males and females to eat it. Eating of meat resulted in diseases in dominant males and they dies.
“Some baboons have a Type A personality, and they pay for it in terms of disease… The baboons that handle stress best, in contrast, are those who have formed stable social connections.”
With removal of dominant males in one stroke, the equation changed, the females took over the charge of troops. With this the culture also changed, the males stopped attacking females and even among themselves they were more peaceful. Sapolsky observed that the troop was more peaceful and stress levels were less. Less fights resulted in more bonding, and it was found that bonding helps to lower stress levels.