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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Jun;1167:174-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04508.x.

Neural basis of preference for human social hierarchy versus egalitarianism.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, 2029 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


A fundamental way that individuals differ is in the degree to which they prefer social dominance hierarchy over egalitarianism as a guiding principle of societal structure, a phenomenon known as social dominance orientation. Here we show that preference for hierarchical rather than egalitarian social relations varies as a function of neural responses within left anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortices. Our findings provide novel evidence that preference for social dominance hierarchy is associated with neural functioning within brain regions that are associated with the ability to share and feel concern for the pain of others; this suggests a neurobiological basis for social and political attitudes. Implications of these findings for research on the social neuroscience of fairness, justice, and intergroup relations are discussed.

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