Social brains and divides: the interplay between social dominance orientation and the neural sensitivity to hierarchical ranks
Ubiquitous in the animal kingdom, dominance hierarchies emerge through social competition and underlie the control of resources. Confronting the disruptive influence of socioeconomic inequalities, human populations tend to split into groups who legitimize existing dominance hierarchies and groups who condemn them. Here, we hypothesized that variations in the neural sensitivity to dominance ranks partly underpins this ideological split, as measured by the social dominance orientation scale (SDO). Following a competitive task used to induce dominance representations about three opponents (superior, equal and inferior), subjects were passively presented the faces of these opponents while undergoing fMRI. Analyses demonstrated that two key brain regions, the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and anterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (aDLPFC) were sensitive to social ranks. Confirming our hypothesis, the sensitivity of the right aDLPFC to social ranks correlated positively with the SDO scale, which is known to predict behaviors and political attitudes associated with the legitimization of dominance hierarchies. This study opens new perspectives for the neurosciences of political orientation and social dominance.