Social role has been defined as a pattern of behaviour characteristic of a class of individuals within a group. The concept was developed by primatologists both to describe individual variation in behaviour in social groups and to be used in addition to hierarchy as a model for primate
social organization. Cattle have been shown to express considerable individual variation in behaviour. Furthermore, cattle and primates show some similarities with respect to their social behaviour. This may indicate that the concept of social roles might be useful to those studying cattle
behaviour. After a brief literature review it is concluded that the concept may indeed be applicable to cattle. The possible welfare implications of this are first, that it would offer a new approach for the study of individual differences in behaviour - important to the understanding of how
animals cope with their environment in captivity. Second, it could help the understanding of social behaviour in domestic species. It is suggested that an interchange of ideas between primatologists and applied ethologists is needed.