Individuals in groups often have differences in their preferred options, such as when choosing foraging locations. If they are to stay together they have to find ways to compromise. Theory predicts that groups will usually find some consensus by democratic ‘voting’, because this means that everyone does okay. However, the costs of these compromises has not been calculated, and ‘despotic’ decision making by a single leader is often observed.
Baboons live in complex social systems with dominance hierarchies with dominant males at the top. The experimenters provided small patches of food that gave large amounts of food to dominants but small amounts to everyone else. The finding that the patches were frequently visited suggested that the dominants made the decisions (‘despotic’). Only a minority of individual gained from these visits. Individuals that were closer in relatedness or socially followed more closely
Subordinate baboons follow despotic leaders, even though it costs them in the short-term, because social ties to the leader will have long-term benefits. For example, females will benefit from increased protection for their offspring from predators by the dominant male.