Watkins CD & Jones BC (2012). Priming men with different contest outcomes modulates their dominance perceptions. Behavioral Ecology, 23(3): 539-543. doi: 10.1093/beheco/arr221

It has recently been proposed that dominance perceptions in men function, at least in part, to reduce the potential costs of within-sex competition for resources and that sensitivity to cues of men’s dominance is greatest among men who would incur the largest costs if they engaged in competition with rivals indiscriminately (i.e., low-dominance men). Consistent with these proposals, we found that men randomly allocated to priming conditions in which they imagined losing confrontations with other men subsequently demonstrated greater sensitivity to dominance cues when assessing the dominance of men’s faces than did men randomly allocated to priming conditions in which they imagined winning confrontations. No equivalent effect occurred for perceptions of men’s trustworthiness, suggesting that the priming effect observed for dominance judgments may be somewhat specific to competition-related perceptions. Collectively, these findings suggest that men’s perceptions of other men’s dominance are facultative, changing in response to contextual cues, such as the outcomes of recent confrontations. Such responses could play a critical role in calibrating men’s dominance sensitivity according to their recent experiences and are consistent with findings from experiments with other species in which the outcome of prior confrontations modulated competition-related behaviors.

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