Understanding Social Hierarchies: The Neural and Psychological Foundations of Status Perception

Social groups across species rapidly self-organize into hierarchies, where members vary in their level of power, influence, skill, or dominance. In this review we explore the nature of social hierarchies and the traits associated with status in both humans and nonhuman primates, and how status varies across development in humans. Our review finds that we can rapidly identify social status based on a wide range of cues. Like monkeys, we tend to use certain cues, like physical strength, to make status judgments, although layered on top of these more primitive perceptual cues are socio-cultural status cues like job titles and educational attainment. One’s relative status has profound effects on attention, memory, and social interactions, as well as health and wellness. These effects can be particularly pernicious in children and adolescents. Developmental research on peer groups and social exclusion suggests teenagers may be particularly sensitive to social status information, but research focused specifically on status processing and associated brain areas is very limited. Recent evidence from neuroscience suggests there may be an underlying neural network, including regions involved in executive, emotional, and reward processing, that is sensitive to status information. We conclude with questions for future research as well as stressing the need to expand social neuroscience research on status processing to adolescents.

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About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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