Sex differences in the impact of social status on hair cortisol concentrations in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta)

Jessica J. Vandeleest, Sasha L. Winkler, Brianne A. Beisner, Darcy L. Hannibal, Edward R. Atwill, Brenda McCowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Social status impacts stress in primates, but the direction of the effect differs depending on species, social style, and group stability. This complicates our ability to identify broadly applicable principles for understanding how social status impacts health and fitness. One reason for this is the fact that social status is often measured as linear dominance rank, yet social status is more complex than simply high or low rank. Additionally, most research on social status and health ignores the effects of sex and sex-specific relationships, despite known differences in disease risk, coping strategies, and opposite-sex dominance interactions between males and females in many species. We examine the influence of social status, sex, and opposite-sex interactions on hair cortisol concentrations (HCC) in a well-studied species, rhesus macaques, where the literature predicts low ranking individuals would experience more chronic stress. Animals in three captive, seminaturalistic social groups (N = 252; 71 male) were observed for 6 weeks to obtain metrics of social status (rank and dominance certainty [DC]). DC is a measure of one's fit within the hierarchy. Hair samples were collected from each subject and analyzed for HCC. Generalized linear mixed models were used to examine (a) whether rank, DC, or sex predicted HCC; (b) whether same- or opposite-sex dominance relationships differentially impacted HCC; and (c) whether aggressive interactions initiated or received could explain any observed relationships. Results indicated that DC, not rank, predicted HCC in a sex-specific manner. For males, high HCC were predicted by receiving aggression from or having high DC with other males as well as having low DC with females. For females, only high DC with males predicted high HCC. These results likely relate to sex-specific life history pattern differences in inherited versus earned rank that are tied to female philopatry and male immigration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23086
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • aggression
  • dominance certainty
  • hair cortisol
  • sex differences
  • social status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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