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Q Rev Biol. 2002 Jun;77(2):149-64.

Beyond dominance: the importance of leverage.

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  • 1Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA.


The dominance concept as it is currently defined and applied in animal behavior is problematic. What has been traditionally considered dominance is actually a combination of dominance in the strict sense and power based upon other sources. Rather than working within the current paradigm, I propose a conceptual revision founded upon the more inclusive concept of power. Power is a phenomenon where a dyadic relationship is asymmetrical (Simon 1953) and can be divided into two types: dominance and leverage. Dominance is power based upon the ability to use force. Leverage is power based upon a resource that cannot be taken by force. Four characteristics of power are used in sociology (base, means, amount, and scope) that facilitate both the expansion of the power concept beyond traditional dominance and the application of these theoretical ideas in empirical studies. This cross-disciplinary approach to power allows a wide range of behaviors to be considered as critical while at the same time it focuses the attention of researchers to the aspects of power that differ among dyads, classes, and species. Power is not simply a linear combination of dominance and leverage, and more research is needed before the exact nature of this relationship can be clarified. By considering dominance as one form of power, this framework fosters a more complete understanding of power dynamics and their effects on animal societies.

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