The evolution of social dominance I: Two-player models

G.S. van Doorn, G.M. Hengeveld, F.J. Weissing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


A difference in dominance rank is an often-used cue to resolve conflicts between two animals without escalated fights. At the group level, adherence to a dominance convention efficiently reduces the costs associated with conflicts, but from an individual's point of view, it is difficult to explain why a low ranking individual should accept its subordinate status. This is especially true if, as suggested by several authors, dominance not necessarily reflects differences in fighting ability but rather results from arbitrary historical asymmetries. According to this idea, rank differentiation emerges from behavioural strategies, referred to as winner and loser effects, in which winners of previous conflicts are more likely to win the current conflict, whereas the losers of previous conflicts are less likely to do so. In order to investigate whether dominance, based on such winner and loser effects, can be evolutionarily stable, we analyse a game theoretical model. The model focuses on an extreme case in which there are no differences in fighting ability between individuals at all. The only asymmetries that may arise between individuals are generated by the outcome of previous conflicts. By means of numerical analysis, we find alternative evolutionarily stable strategies, which all utilize these asymmetries for conventional conflict resolution. One class of these strategies is based on winner and loser effects, thus generating evolutionarily stable dominance relations even in the absence of differences in resource holding potential.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1305-1332
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • extensive 2-person games
  • animal societies
  • hierarchies
  • strategies
  • stability
  • emergence
  • contests
  • logic
  • long

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The evolution of social dominance I: Two-player models'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this