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Shared Social Status Boosts Brain Activity, Research Shows

THURSDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- Your social status affects how your brain reacts to other people, researchers have found.

In the new study, brain activity in volunteers was measured using functional MRI. Those with higher socioeconomic status experienced increased brain activity when shown information about others at their social level, while people with lower socioeconomic status had greater response to others like them, the investigators found.

The heightened activity occurred in an area called the ventral striatum, a main part of the brain's "values" system, according to the report published in the April 28 online edition of the journal Current Biology.

"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," study author Caroline Zink, of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, said in a journal news release. "Interestingly, the value we assign to information about someone's particular status seems to depend on our own status."

The findings have important implications for our social behavior and social lives, according to Zink.

She noted that a person's socioeconomic status, which is based on factors such as habits and accomplishments as well as monetary value -- can change, and it's not clear how the brain responds to those changes.

However, she added, "As humans, we have the capacity to assess our surroundings and context to determine appropriate feelings and behavior. We, and our brain's activity, are not static and can adjust depending on the circumstances. As one's status changes, I would expect that the value we place on status-related information from others and corresponding brain activity in the ventral striatum would also change."

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about socioeconomic status.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Current Biology, news release, April 28, 2011

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