Human brain appears ‘hard-wired’ for hierarchy (4/26/2008)

Brain activity was much higher in key brain centers when participants viewed a superior player in an unstable social hierarchy -- when participants had the possibility of upward mobility. - Credit: Caroline Zink, Ph.D., NIMH Genes Cognition and Psychosis Program Human imaging studies have for the first time identified brain circuitry associated with social status, according to researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health. They found that different brain areas are activated when a person moves up or down in a pecking order – or simply views perceived social superiors or inferiors. Circuitry activated by important events responded to a potential change in hierarchical status as much as it did to winning money.

“Our position in social hierarchies strongly influences motivation as well as physical and mental health,” said NIMH Director Thomas R Insel, M.D. “This first glimpse into how the brain processes that information advances our understanding of an important factor that can impact public health.”

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