Subjective socioeconomic status predicts human ventral striatal responses to social status information

Curr Biol. 2011 May 10;21(9):794-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.050. Epub 2011 Apr 28.


The enormous influence of hierarchical rank on social interactions [1] suggests that neural mechanisms exist to process status-related information [2] and ascribe value to it. The ventral striatum is prominently implicated in processing value and salience, independent of hedonic properties [3, 4], and a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of social status perception in humans demonstrated that viewing higher-ranked compared to lower-ranked individuals evokes a ventral striatal response [5], indicative of a greater assignment of value/salience to higher status. Consistent with this interpretation, nonhuman primates value information associated with higher-ranked conspecifics more than lower-ranked, as illustrated using a choice paradigm in which monkeys preferentially take the opportunity to view high-status monkeys [6]. Interestingly, this status-related value assignment in nonhuman primates is influenced by one's own hierarchical rank: high-status monkeys preferentially attend to conspecifics of high status, whereas low-status monkeys will also attend to other low-status monkeys [7]. Complementary to these findings, using fMRI and a social status judgment task in humans, we suggest a neurobiological mechanism by which one's own relative hierarchical rank influences the value attributed to particular social status information by demonstrating that one's subjective socioeconomic status differentially influences ventral striatal activity during processing of status-related information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • District of Columbia
  • Female
  • Hierarchy, Social*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Social Class*