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Higher or lower? The functional anatomy of perceived allocentric social hierarchies

Farrow, T.F.D., Jones, S.C., Kaylor-Hughes, C.J., Wilkinson, I.D., Woodruff, P.W.R., Hunter, M.D. and Spence, S.A. (2011) Higher or lower? The functional anatomy of perceived allocentric social hierarchies. NeuroImage, 57 (4). pp. 1552-1560. ISSN 1053-8119


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The perception and judgement of social hierarchies forms an integral part of social cognition. Hierarchical judgements can be either self-referential or allocentric (pertaining to two or more external agents). In psychiatric conditions such as dissocial personality disorder and schizophrenia, the impact of hierarchies may be problematic. We sought to elucidate the brain regions involved in judging allocentric social hierarchies. Twenty-two healthy male subjects underwent three fMRI scans. During scanning, subjects answered questions concerning visually-presented target pairs of human individual's relative superiority within a specific social hierarchy or their perceived degree of social alliance (i.e., whether they were "friends or enemies"). Subjects also made judgements relating to target pairs' age, gender and fame to control for confounding factors and performed a baseline numerical task. Response times increased in line with hypothesized ascending executive load. Both social hierarchy and social alliance judgements activated left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), left dorsal inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and bilateral fusiform gyri. In addition, social alliance judgements activated right dorsal IFG and medial prefrontal cortex. When compared directly with social alliance, social hierarchy judgements activated left orbitofrontal cortex. Detecting the presence of social hierarchies and judging other's relative standing within them implicates the cognitive executive, in particular the VLPFC. Our finding informs accounts of 'normal' social cognition but our method also provides a means of probing the dissocial brain in personality disorder and schizophrenia where executive function may be dysfunctional. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: © 2011 Elsevier. This is an author produced version of a paper subsequently published in Neuroimage. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Keywords: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Social hierarchy; Social alliance; Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex; Orbitofrontal cortex; Dissocial personality
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health (Sheffield) > School of Medicine (Sheffield) > Department of Neuroscience (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Miss Anthea Tucker
Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2011 14:04
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2013 17:33
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.069...
Status: Published
Publisher: Elsevier
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.069
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/43236

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