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Dopamine Levels in Brain May Determine Social Status

Having more of it linked to greater social support, researchers say

FRIDAY, Feb. 5 (HealthDay News) -- The makeup of your brain may influence your social standing, a new study suggests.

Researchers conducted PET scans of the brains of healthy volunteers and assessed their levels of social status and social support. The results suggest that social status and social support are associated with the density of dopamine D2/D3 receptors in an area of the brain called the striatum, which plays a major role in reward and motivation.

"We showed that low levels of dopamine receptors were associated with low social status and that high levels of dopamine receptors were associated with higher social status. The same type of association was seen with the volunteer's reports of social support they experience from their friends, family or significant other," Dr. Diana Martinez, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said in a news release.

People who achieve greater social status are more likely to find life rewarding and stimulating because they have more targets for dopamine to act upon within the striatum, Martinez explained. Dopamine is a chemical that transmits signals between brain cells.

The study was published in the Feb. 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

"These data shed interesting light into the drive to achieve social status, a basic social process," said journal editor Dr. John Krystal. "It would make sense that people who had higher levels of D2 receptors, i.e., were more highly motivated and engaged by social situations, would be high achievers and would have higher levels of social support."

The study also may help improve understanding about why certain people are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Previous studies have suggested that lower levels of social status and social support contribute to the risk of substance abuse.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Biological Psychiatry, news release, Feb. 3, 2010

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