How brain stores info about social hierarchy
Different parts of brain are used to learn about social hierarchies and ordinary information, researchers including one of Indian origin have revealed.
The study supported by the Wellcome Trust provides clues as to how this information is stored in memory and also reveals that you can tell a lot about how good somebody is likely to be at judging social rank by looking at the structure of their brain.
The team at the UCL Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience used brain imaging techniques to investigate this in twenty six healthy volunteers.
Participants were asked to play a simple science fiction computer game where they would be acting as future investors. Their findings reveal a striking dissociation between the neural circuits used to learn social and non-social hierarchies.
They observed increased neural activity in both the amygdala and the hippocampus when participants were learning about the hierarchy of executives within the fictitious space mining company. In contrast, when learning about the non-social hierarchy, relating to which galaxies had more mineral, only the hippocampus was recruited.
They also found that those who were better at learning the social hierarchy had an increased volume of grey matter in the amygdala compared with those less able.
"These findings are telling us that the amygdala is specifically involved in learning information about social rank based on experience and suggest that separate neural circuits are involved than for learning hierarchy information of a non-social nature," Dr Dharshan Kumaran at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, who led the study, said.
The study has been published today in the journal Neuron.