Status 'determines brain's reactions to others'

Wedding Weddings allow many opportunities for judging others' social status

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Our brains react differently to others depending on how we view their social status, researchers say.

The Current Biology study found those who see themselves as being of a high status display more brain activity with those they think are equally elevated.

The researchers said behaviour was determined by how people saw those around them.

A British expert said first evaluations were crucial in determining how individuals related to each other.

It was already known from other studies that monkeys behave this way; changing behaviour dependent on how they perceived the other animal's position in the troop.

The 23 participants, who had varying levels of social status, were shown information about someone of higher status and information about someone of lower status.

Start Quote

I should think there'll be an awful lot of evaluating going on at Westminster Abbey”

End Quote Dr Jane McCartney British Psychological Society

The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure activity in the ventral striatum, part of the brain's reward system.

People who viewed themselves as having a higher subjective socioeconomic status displayed greater brain activity in response to other high-ranked individuals, while those with lower status have a greater response to other low-status individuals.

First evaluations

Dr Caroline Zink, of the US National Institute of Mental Health, who led the study, said: "The way we interact with and behave around other people is often determined by their social status relative to our own, and therefore information regarding social status is very valuable to us.

"Interestingly, the value we assign to information about someone's particular status seems to depend on our own.

She added that socioeconomic status is not based solely on money, but can also include factors such as accomplishments and habits.

Dr Jane McCartney, a London-based chartered psychologist and a member of the British Psychological Society, said: "First evaluations are terribly important to everyone, whether it's to do with status, looks or money.

"It's about deciding if this person is of the same status, and what one needs to do ensure they know you are of an equal status and evaluating what role they may play in your life."

She added: "I should think there'll be an awful lot of evaluating going on at Westminster Abbey on Friday."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This kind of study is very important in understanding human behaviour. I don't agree with another respondent who said it was 'just stating the obvious'. This permeates ALL of our contacts with others. The elephant in the room is the consequence of this first reaction. Someone must follow up with work on that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    So, basically, prejudice in people is an ingrained, biological thing. A very depressing find, but not surprising at all! If only people realise that, whoever on Earth you are, there are two main things that make everybody equal: we all go to the toilet, and we all die! Or perhaps that's just my wishy-washy liberalism talking!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    As an experienced psychiatric nurse, & spent most of my career doing intial psychotherapeutic assessments, None what so ever, I see the social characteristics that come with wealth, class, or knowledge, is no more than another level of psychological defence. From experience, I would also suggest often this person is more vulnerable to certain stressors.


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