Neural Representation of Social Hierarchy

Caroline F. Zink and Joseph W. Barter

in The Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780195342161
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Neural Representation of Social Hierarchy

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Social Psychology



This chapter reviews current knowledge regarding neural systems underlying social hierarchies, focusing primarily on human and nonhuman primates. It starts with an examination of two neurotransmitter systems: 1) the involvement of the central serotonergic system in the determination and maintenance of one’s hierarchical rank; and 2) the repercussions of acquiring a particular hierarchical position on the dopaminergic system. This section is followed by a discussion of various brain regions that have been implicated in the processing of perceived social status in stable and unstable hierarchical settings. It also explores the neural processing of the ‘hierarchical value’ associated with specific events or circumstances that potentially impact one’s status (either positively or negatively) during periods of hierarchy instability. In closing, the chapter considers future research directions aimed at further elucidating the complexity of the neural representations of social hierarchies.

Keywords: social hierarchy; social status; rank; dominant; subordinate; serotonin; dopamine; brain; fMRI; human; monkey; (hierarchical) value

Article.  9180 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience ; Social Psychology

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