Hierarchical social status greatly influences behavior and health. Human and animal studies have begun to identify the brain regions that are activated during the formation of social hierarchies. They point towards the prefrontal cortex (PFC) as a central regulator, with brain areas upstream of the PFC conveying information about social status, and downstream brain regions executing dominance behavior. This review summarizes our current knowledge on the neural circuits that control social status. We discuss how the neural mechanisms for various types of dominance behavior can be studied in laboratory rodents by selective manipulation of neuronal activity or synaptic plasticity. These studies may help in finding the cause of social stress-related mental and physical health problems.
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