The term ‘alpha female’ is thrown around casually, but what does the science have to say? What is an alpha female? Here is the real definition of an alpha female, based on the latest research:

Alpha Female: A woman who has embraced her leadership ambitions. She is talented, highly motivated, and self-confident.

(From research here and here)

Female alphas embrace their confidence and this helps them lead others. An alpha female tends to:

  • believe her ability to achieve is limitless
  • self-identify as a alpha female
  • have a confidence that is contagious, which leads others to respect her as an equal
  • showcase leadership characteristics
  • be recognized by others as being impactful
  • have extremely high ambitions

The term ‘alpha’ actually comes from research on animal behavior. Traditionally, it is used to designate the male animal that is the leader of a pack. These days, the term “alpha” has morphed.

Next, let’s dive into alpha female strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

Next, let’s dive into alpha female strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

They Offer Fearless Leadership

In one study, “Defining the Alpha Female: A Female Leadership Measure,” researchers developed a 14-item questionnaire to measure the alpha female personality. They looked at qualities such as self-esteem, emotional intelligence, leadership, gender ideals, and extroversion. They found that alpha females embrace their leadership role and tendencies. No reluctant leaders here! Why does reluctance matter? A woman can be in a leadership role and not embrace it. This doesn’t make her any more or less of a leader, but it does mark her as a nonalpha female. Look at the differences in these self-identifying statements.

A reluctant female leader might say…

  • I’m not sure if I belong in this leadership role.
  • I’m not a natural born leader.
  • I don’t know enough / earn enough / do enough to lead.

A fearless alpha female might say…

  • I know I can inspire others.
  • I love being a leader.
  • I know I can make a great impact in this world.

Many of the alpha females in the study described a level of comfort and relative advantage in the role of Alpha Female. In other words, they believe their alpha-ness works for them — and they make it so.

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They Possess High Emotional Intelligence

Researchers also found that alpha females have extremely high emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (aka EQ or EI) is our ability to:

  • recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions
  • recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others
  • be aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively)

Because alpha females have such high emotional intelligence, they often serve as social lubricators and business mediators.

Often, alpha females are able to bring social ease to a group. They tell jokes. They start conversations. They introduce people. They smooth over business disagreements and take charge.

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They Are Obsessive Learners

In a study called “Leadership Influences of the Veteran Alpha Female,” the researchers found that a common theme among veteran alpha female leaders was the importance of continuous learning. One hundred percent of the female leaders involved in the study expressed appreciation for their ability to learn to face challenges, learn from experience, or learn from others. 100%! Alpha females prioritize their learning. They:

  • read constantly — books about what they do AND books in subjects completely new to them.
  • dive deep into their expertise. They like to be experts.
  • learn about new fields, research and topics.
  • take professional development courses to further their development.
  • ask questions.
  • learn from their experiences.

Another aspect of obsessive learning is that alpha females also embrace learning from their challenges.

The ability to learn from our obstacles is a skill.

Many of the alpha females found that their challenges were actually instrumental toward shaping their experience and talents.

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They Are Strong

I was surprised when I discovered this quality listed in the research. Of course I knew alpha females had to be strong, but I didn’t necessarily equate that with female toughness. One of the questionnaires asked alpha females if they agreed with the following statements:

___ I consider myself tough.

___ I am stronger than most girls I know.

___ I enjoy athletics and physical activity.

It seems mental strength is related to physical strength. This could be a side door into more alpha-ness. Want to feel more mentally tough? Maybe it’s time to join a bootcamp. Wish you had a thicker skin? Go lift some weights!

Remember, alpha female-hood is not like pregnancy (you are or you aren’t). I believe alpha female-ness is more of a spectrum. Some women have a high tendency to be alpha. They enjoy social conducting: being the leader and/or the center of attention. Some women only like being alpha females in their home, not in their business environment. Some women are only social alphas around certain groups of friends. That’s okay!

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They Are Sought Out

Do people constantly ask your opinion? Are you the go-to person in your group of friends? Do you give advice? Researchers found that alpha females are often put in a position of mentorship, whether they like it or not. People seek their guidance. People ask them for advice. People put them in leadership positions.

Alpha females are sought out for their help.

Alpha females also seek out ways to help.

The research also found that the majority of the female leaders reported feeling an internal satisfaction in being able to give back to others. They mentored, volunteered, and gave back to the people around them. I’ve seen this phenomenon in action. One of our Science of People programs is a certification in body language.

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They Are Highly Ambitious

I was very inspired while reading the studies on alpha females. Alpha females feel their ambition is limitless; that the bounds of their success do not exist; that they could achieve anything. How incredible! This doesn’t mean that alphas have to go it alone. In fact, quite the contrary. Many of the veteran alpha female leaders discussed the essential influential factor of having emotional support from others. And this external support didn’t have to come from a traditional two-parent home or immediate family. 

Ambitious alpha females:

  • seek out mentors
  • seek out challenges
  • look for new opportunities
  • want more — more income, more chances, more from life

The research also found that the alpha females who self-identified as leaders felt a sense of personal charisma and empowerment. And, luckily, these traits can and should be learned (see the importance of learning in Trait #3).

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They Love Their Mommas (and Daddies)

In the study “College Student Leaders: Meet the Alpha Female,” researchers found that the family situations and early socialization of alpha females mattered. Their relationship with their parents was strong, especially with their mothers. This makes sense — when women come from a strong, solid family foundation, they feel they have more courage to venture out. A motherly female role model (whether the mother was alpha or not) also gives encouragement to a budding alpha personality.

You might be wondering if alpha-ness is nature or nurture? The answer is still unclear. The research indicates many alpha qualities can emerge early, but most attributes take time to develop.

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They Cultivate Harmony

In the book The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, she discusses the evolutionary and biological importance for females to get along and keep harmony in a group. From a very young age girls are taught—far more than boys–to share, cooperate, and play fair. Girls get very good at reading others’ emotions and adapting to the tone of a group. Alpha females actually make it easier for a group of girls to interact because there is one unspoken leader. This leader sets the tone for the group and allows girls to get along without having a power struggle. In this way, alpha females are often social conductors. Some other interesting alpha female phenomena I personally have noticed:

Alpha females are social conductors; non-alpha females are her orchestra.

The next time you are at a party or networking event, try this fascinating experiment: find a group of three or more women —you do not need to be close enough to hear them; they just should be in your line of sight. Put a five-minute timer on your phone or watch and take note of the direction of the women’s feet. Almost always, women point their feet toward the person they are most interested in or who they feel is leading the group’s tempo. In only five minutes you will be able to see where the majority of the women are pointing their feet. Amazingly, you will notice that most of the women in the group will be pointing toward the same woman–even if they are in a circle, and even if that woman is not talking.

When the alpha female leaves, a social vacuum is created.

Another way you can spot the alpha female of a group is by watching how each group member exits. When non-alphas leave the group nothing much happens—conversation continues, the gap closes and group members move on. However, when THE alpha female (and there can only be one, see below for details) leaves, you will see something odd happen. Either conversation stops completely and the group members look around expectantly for a new alpha, or the group disperses.

There can be only one alpha female per cluster.

What happens when two alpha females are in the same office? One word: Disaster. Or, maybe two words: Disaster and Drama. The alpha female with the higher degree of alpha-ness usually takes charge and the second alpha female backs down. Well, she seethes, plots revenge, and then backs down. In social groups, most of the female drama comes when two alpha females are competing to be the social conductor and non-alpha females (or alpha females to a lesser degree) are not sure who to follow.

But…there must be at least one alpha female.

Oddly, there must only be one alpha female, but there also must be AT LEAST one. We all have experienced (whether we knew it or not) a group without an alpha female. We might describe it as “awkward,” “weird,” or “boring.” This is because, in a group of women with very low alpha female tendencies, no one is sure how to act, what to talk about, or what the social pace is. Alpha females actually have the very important role of social lubrication. Watch more about this in our video:

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They Have Exceptional Confidence

The alpha woman considers herself equal to her peers and believes her ability to achieve success is limitless. Many alpha women are able to maintain high achievement in educational and career endeavors, and have demonstrated more ambition than the traditional female leader.

Confidence is contagious. With this confidence comes a kind of contagion. If you ever are observing an alpha female in a group, you will notice that the entire group is taking social cues from her. The other women might hold their body like she does. They might talk in the same voice tone. They might even laugh for the same amount of time as the alpha does.

While being an alpha female is incredibly powerful, alpha females also report some negative aspects. The research participants in a study in the Journal of Leadership Education expressed having to pay a price for their status and strong alpha female identity. They felt at times that they were negatively labeled and stereotyped. They also reported feeling forced to live up to very high expectations. What does this mean? Female alphas need to come up with creative ways to manage the negative effects of their power while reaping the benefits.

Still not sure if you are an alpha female? Be sure to take our alpha female quiz! Want to learn to leverage more of your strengths? Read these articles next:

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

57 replies on “The Alpha Female: 9 Ways You Can Tell Who is an Alpha Woman”

  1. jane

    Wait What, I realize my post is like a million years late. From my observations of the lady in the video. Alpha Females are created beings. It took them years to learn that confidence, how to dress, how to speak, how to perform in front of people. And it takes alot to keep that presence up. I grew up in a house Full of Alpha Females, it was disaterous. Although I loved them it was awful, because there was always competition, and it pulled a number on your spirit. Alphas in general….I have came across humble leaders, those are the good ones, they inspire and teach people things they can take with them wherever they go. but the agressive ones can always sniff another leader, they can tell, it doesnt matter if this person is another alpha or not. If you have at least 10% leadership abilities. They can sniff them out of the crowd. They know and its scary especially, when they start to pounce.

  2. Shelley deJong

    I’ve been studying people forever and find it so useful working with athletes and sponsors. I’m so glad I found you and I’m excited about your book. Hope to join your team too.

  3. Stephanie Underwood

    I’ve seen the Alpha female in action when I was at a conference with a group of women that didn’t know each other. Everything I knew about the Alpha female flew out the window! There was a woman there that didn’t seem to stand out from the crowd. She was also quiet and reserved. The other women flocked around her hanging on her every word. It struck me as odd because she seemed a little uncomfortable with all the attention. She squirmed a little in her seat and stammered on her words before finally relaxing into conversation. When she left the group all the ladies went their separate ways. What was it about her that attracted so many women? Body language? The experience certainly piqued my curiosity!

    1. I’m an high Alpha Female. Personally it depends. It would depend how well the two females could take turns being the leader. But that’s a rarity. I think it would depend how high alpha or how many alpha qualitys each person had. Two really high alphas wouldn’t work out though because there would be a constant power/leader struggle. For example both females would want to take charge so they would fight it out.

    2. Sara Specht

      Absolutely! But I think they will have completely different circles of friends. See the way I see it is, the “alpha female” is a leader. There can only be one leader at a time. Leaders do love to talk to other leaders and support and be supported as such. However, a leader or an alpha female, will not follow in a group. Not that she can’t or won’t follow others, she can, but inside she will be questioning who the better leader is and when given an opportunity will step into that role. Mainly because that is the role that is comfortable to her. I don’t even believe she is entirely conscious of it- it just comes natural.

  4. I do believe there are alpha females, however I believe it is a state of mind, presenting yourself in a positive manner is important in the business world or even in everyday life. You do not need to be physically attractive or wear stiletto heels to be empowered, alpha females are usually nurturing and they are pack leaders, they are the providers of life and teachers through out their lives.

  5. pokolantin

    We are not animals. we are human. so if you compare yourself with some dog!! or penguin or whatever, it’s better to go and live with them. comparing apple with blueberry? looooooool

    1. a friendly reminder

      We are animals. Highly evolved primates. I wish people like you wouldn’t say we arent animals because we are. Look it up we share 98% chimpanzee dna.

  6. Nikki Thornton

    I would describe myself as a female alpha, now. however, I wonder if this is a role that you could grow into? As a child I was quite timid and perhaps a bit awkward! But over the years my confidence has grown exponentially and I find myself being in the role of the female alpha in the home and in my college class. Perhaps this is due to me being a single parent and having to fill both parental roles? I love being the alpha and that people in my class follow my lead but without being forceful 😉 Awesome article as usual!

    1. As a child I used to be super introverted. I was really shy and preferred other people to take the lead. But after I turned 7 I started slowing becoming an Alpha female also. And currently I’m a naturally dominant and take charge person.

      1. John

        You’re correct, it does say “inkling” now. At the time I wrote this comment, it said “inclining.” Did you know It’s possible to go back and edit an article? That’s the whole point of pointing out a correction. So that it gets fixed. And indeed it was fixed. I wouldn’t have written this comment otherwise. It doesn’t make my correction any less valid if you can’t see the corrected mistake. How inane.

  7. vancouverchic

    Um… you call “foul” then precede to discuss the supposed definition of an Alpha MALE. You are correct that women will never be Alpha MALES lol

  8. Erica Kamens

    I think the notion that there are no female alphas is an absurd one. You’ve never seen a female be naturally dominant and fearless? I see it all the time. Just like how there are non-alpha males, there are alpha females. How stupid of you to make such a baseless claim…

  9. Kaylee Stephenson

    I’m an Alpha female. However, to the majority of women I am seen as threat, so the circles I lead are males. Men are extremely submissive to my requests and demands. The only men who truly have a problem with me are Alpha males, but even they are not a challenge to me.

    I am extremely attractive, smart, funny…basically the whole package. I am not intimidated by anyone, nor will I follow anyone. Women hate me, I guess this is because primally speaking I am a threat to their survival, subconsciously they automatically sense me as a threat (even if I’m not) and try to attack me, but all back down quickly.

    When I walk into a room I own everyone’s glances, all eyes are on me. Ironically, I am only attracted to other Alpha males due to them being more challenging.

    The whole reason I am in my current relationship is because he tells me no, and I love it. I love that he doesn’t give into every whim and request. He doesn’t cower in fear of losing me to another, because he’s the total package, the king of the jungle.

    Together we’re a powerhouse, unstoppable.

    1. Kitt McIntyre

      I’m not sure if what you are describing is alpha female characteristics. I think you are more than likely very attractive and know how to use that to your advantage in leading males. Alpha females are not known to be hated or seen as a threat to the women they surround themselves with – it is usually the opposite. Alpha females are the ones the other females turn to, take their cue from, and respect. They are the female that often lead the social direction of the group. It’s not about fear, jealousy, or resentment – it is the female that just by her natural disposition earns the respect and interest of the other females of the group. What you are describing is not close to the same.

    2. Funny Mermaid

      You tell em Kaylee! I’m right there with you! 😀 There’s definitely other females who’ll hate you for your position & try to take you down (some patriarchal male’s too!)

      I just recently found an Alpha male ( finally) who was strong enough to stand beside me. We both love the passion, challenge, strength, etc., we bring out in one another. He spoils me rotten, lift’s me up like a Queen, like a true King will! Yet, won’t bow to my every whim. He loves me to run as my free, wild spirit without restraint!

      We’re both fearless, dynamic, strong, courageous creatures

      I also call us a true, authentic “Powerhouse”!

    3. A Vee

      Yes, I agree with John. I can topple you and everyone in the room, you would be backing way down like all self and other proclaimed Alpha females do with me, actually. I’m probably quite narcissistic too. LOL. My family is just too powerful in their genes on both sides.

    4. D

      I had a reaction to your comment so I took 24 hours before replying. I wanted to “respond” and not react.

      I agree, women would be threatened by you even if you tried to assure them. I’ve done some research on how we’re all sort of primally motivated and even poach each other’s mates. So, why bother assuring people who could manipulate you, betray you, and undermine you if you’ve got “the power” in the room… is sort of a way of looking at it.

      Personally I aspire towards reciprocity- if I want a certain measure of security in my life then I’ll want to recreate that sort of security through all of my interactions in my community. So, I might minimize myself or deliberately tone myself down so that more intense women can have the limelight. I will also avoid deliberately going after other peoples’ mates or significant others.

      It can happen unintentionally- even though I’m disheveled and really not the body or looks ideal by any standard! I’ve even had “hot girls guy friends” come after me, which of course in my 20s I would sometimes fish deliberately but now in my 30s I’ve been through so much pain that I wouldn’t want to do that even to the biggest jerks in the room. It’s horrendous.
      So, I kind of avoid married couples and couples in general to avoid the triangulation garbage that can come up.

      Right now I’m technically single and I’m ok with that. I didn’t get “the cards” in life to easily attract and maintain relationships. I have a lot of work to do to just deal with having back problems and maintaining a healthy weight.

      With inner work I’ve come to fearlessly acknowledge that I am threatened by people who “have it all” and sometimes I wonder if it’s because there is a culture of needing to intimidate, be threatening, and tear people down in circles where people are competitive athletes, have the looks, are more highly skilled, can manage a lot more more effortlessly.

      There’s still a high rate of divorce and infidelity even in power circles. But, I also know power couples who are solidly married. Like folks who are 100% movie magic devoted to their partners.

      I’ve decided for my own success, given my life circumstances, it’s better to just be neutral rather than resentful.

      And, through being around high achieving people, I’ve realized that this intimidation persona I’m observing is something based out of necessity- a need to control the entire room and culture so that it reinforces and stabilizes ones power and influence.

      If someone can maintain it effectively, great! I wonder if it causes a lot of psychological stress for the individual…. but again, that wondering could be an “undermining” reflex in a more primitive part of my brain. Looking for a flaw.

      I think everyone needs to find their own niche or role in the world. I think that to me I have had no other choice but to define success by “how neutral I can be in all situations whether I’m winning or losing.”

      I respect you for your honesty on this post and – I’m not sure if applies- but I could empathize it might be exhausting to be the target of jilted women’s scorn and envy.

      So, as my mother always said, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Have fun!

      To speak from a bigger picture perspective- more successful people in all facets of their lives are often raised to:
      Notice details, read contracts, organize and manage a ton of documents, compete in sports or dance, have a core of fitness in their lives, have a ton of role models – and in the case of being the highly sought after perfect alpha, have a core of women that are like them to raise them (potentially). So, cheerleaders are an example of this.

      If we women competed less and cooperated more, some of the psychological trauma of being women could be reduced (See Mean Girls gym scene for more info)

      I don’t have answers. But, I did just want to say thanks for sharing and respond with some disorganized thoughts and feelings.

      Thanks for reading!

  10. Jessica

    Alpha females exist in all animals and yes in primate hierarchy as well. Wolf packs are often lead by alpha females and so on. It’s interesting that associated with this subject is the social conditioning we’ve all received that women will back down or step aside for a man naturally. That isn’t the case. I’m an alpha female and my husband is an alpha male. We make one hell of a team in business as well as life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
    Alpha females are subtle sometimes but are existent and I’m proof of that.

  11. Ivory Cn

    i do agree with u anonymous.. alpha female does not take care of ‘the pack’, they want to be the most beautiful/attractive/intelligent, sexiest. a lady here.. maybe ‘alpha-ness’ in social circle would be more valid than an alpha female.

  12. Will

    just goes to show female alphas can’t be real alphas. all the drama and negativity is by nature beta. most things about woman scream beta.

    1. Meg

      I believe I am a “true alpha” and I agree with you, that by nature most things about women scream beta. I also believe that there are varying degrees of alpha. Most of my friends are alpha on some level bc I really don’t have a ton of respect for the classic beta female. I’ve noticed within career and social circles that some women mistake being domineering and controlling as being alpha. I believe that if one feels the need to dominate and be in control of everything, that she’s showing her beta side and insecurities. A true leader or alpha will lead naturally and won’t look for permission or approval of those around her. It would be nice if more of these articles were clear on those points. There is a big misconception by people about what a leader “looks” like.

      1. Angela Bird

        Beta males have a tendency to show aggression towards females and get angry at them when they fail at life, while an alpha male will not lash out.

      2. Rachael

        I rarely talk and i sit behind in every meeting but somehow i get called to the front!people ask for my opinion in most issues and they tend to agree with it.Whenever i go iam a natural leader.a times i fear to cause jealousy and try not to engage but it comes naturally for any group to choose me as a leader…i dont know if this is alpha.

    2. Sera de Versailles

      Your passive-aggressive (emphasis on “passive” or cowardly) comment reveals you to be a lower beta. Go make me a sandwich.

  13. McTau

    Thanks for the article. I was thinking about alpha and beta hierarchy among women a lot lately. An article on psychologytoday suggested that alpha females are physically attractive, very successful in their career and are dominant when it comes to relationships:

    “Her towering four-inch stilettos march off to the office, the store, the judge’s chambers, and her lacquered-red soles send a “follow me” signal, straight to the bedroom.
    She’s the MD who manages a clinic like a well-oiled machine, […] she may proudly sign her texts “HBIC” (head bitch in charge—an acronym I heard recently from a 17-year-old client of mine headed to the Ivy League who could be the poster child for the new generation).”

    The idea of the decadent, undependant woman being the next generation’s role model is getting on my nerves and pt just lost my respect. Clearly the author expressed a rare phenomenon or a wish rather than reality. Your description of alpha females comes very close to what I’ve witnessed during school and in social environments.

  14. Zoe Katherine

    What about girls that don’t fit in with other girls, but do with boys? Just out of curiosity? Are they really classed as ‘weaklings’ just for not fitting in? I mean this sounds a little bit strange to me…

    1. Joan Bennett

      Good point. I am an EXTREMELY strong and confident female, but I don’t seem to fit in with anyone, anywhere. I don’t understand what motivates any of my fellow humanoids – they all seem to be a mess. No logic and making decisions that lead to unhappiness in life. I seem to be the only person I know who is actually happy. Everyone else seems to be looking for something – marriage, house, career. They can’t just be and I just don’t get it…

      1. Personally I’m a naturally dominant person but I prefer to be friends with guys. I don’t think not fitting in with girls makes you a weakling. I usually feal that it’s better to have guy friends because your not dealing with drama and backstabbing all the time.

  15. I am curious if Alpha females also reflect it on body structure, body dynamincs and organic behavior? And if so do they corelate always to Alpha males?? In the spectrum of the Alphaness is it possible for Alphas to be categorized as “Healthy well natured” or “Unhealthy and psycopatic” being a reflection of how connected they are from the original human seed??

    1. Susie Carmichael

      I would imagine that like alpha males, alpha females are very prideful in their appearance. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they all have washboard abs and butts you can bounce pennies on, but I think that’s more along the lines of they always need to look good and well presented.

  16. Rae

    This article is helpful in identifying my adult daughter as an alpha. There are powerful traits and can be used ethically to be supportive but if not can be destructive. In our family she has dominated by many strategies to control my sons, create attitudes, even hosting my sons 21st birthday party without any discussion with me which has been hurtful. The alpha certainky knows how to work a room a party and other people’s lives. Why the need for this power n control?

    1. Amanda

      She might not be an alpha then. I don’t need the power or control. It just comes to me, given usually. Maybe she is exersizing her alpha tendencies but the big thing for betas to remember is it is just natural for alphas. It just comes to us. It’s not usually forced, and if I don’t have control I don’t feel like I NEED it. I usually just wait and I get it.

    2. Being a control freak and or wanting and loving to be in control all the time doesn’t make you an alpha female. Personally I think it’s more about being a leader and not needing approval. And in general being dominant.

  17. LDancer

    Wow I not a Female Alpha but I think that they are a BIG HELP with awkwardness and help u to feel good about yourself

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