07/15/2011 07:09 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2011

Beta Males Have Lower Stress Than Alpha Males, Study Shows

The whole "bad boys get the girls" attitude is a tale as old as time, but as a primate study featured in the New York Times suggests, even though they might get less immediate female attention, it's the "nice guys" who are healthier.

A team from the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, including research associate Laurence R. Gesquiere, studied five troops of wild baboons in Kenya over a period of nine years. Their results, featured in the journal Science, show that alpha males have high stress levels. The New York Times' James Gorman provided a humorous look into why.

The stress, they suggested, was probably because of the demands of fighting off challengers and guarding access to fertile females. Beta males, who fought less and had considerably less mate guarding to do, had much lower stress levels. They had fewer mating opportunities than the alphas, but they did get some mating in, more than any lower-ranking males. After all, when the alpha gets in another baboon bar fight, who’s going to take the girl home?

Stress levels are important to mark because, as the article also notes, long-term stress hormones render the body more susceptible to disease. Although there is no definitive link between the primate results and human health, our general biological similarities raise the question: Is it better to be the beta?

The stigma surrounding the "nice guy" persona have inspired countless fictional characters, an in-depth step-by-step guide to getting rid of the reputation , and even an online support group. But as the University of Pennsylvania's Robert M. Seyfarth told the New York Times, being second best might not be so bad after all.

“It’s a wonderful sample size over many, many years,” he told the Times. “The males at the top are under a lot of stress, and there’s a cost.”