The perception and interpretation of social hierarchies are a key part of our social life. In the present research we considered the activation of cortical areas, mainly the prefrontal cortex, related to social ranking perception in conjunction with some personality components (BAS - Behavioral Activation System - and BIS - Behavioral Inhibition System). In two experiments we manipulated the perceived superior/inferior status during a competitive cognitive task. Indeed, we created an explicit and strongly reinforced social hierarchy based on incidental rating in an attentional task. Specifically, a peer group comparison was undertaken and improved (Experiment 1) or decreased (Experiment 2) performance was artificially manipulated by the experimenter. For each experiment two groups were compared, based on a BAS and BIS dichotomy. Alpha band modulation in prefrontal cortex, behavioral measures (performance: error rate, ER; response times, RTs), and self-perceived ranking were considered. Repeated measures ANOVAs and regression analyses showed in Experiment 1 a significant improved cognitive performance (decreased ER and RTs) and higher self-perceived ranking in high-BAS participants. Moreover, their prefrontal activity was increased within the left side (alpha band decreasing). Conversely, in Experiment 2 a significant decreased cognitive performance (increased ER and RTs) and lower self-perceived ranking was observed in higher-BIS participants. Their prefrontal right activity was increased in comparison with higher BAS. The regression analyses confirmed the significant predictive role of alpha band modulation with respect of subjects' performance and self-perception of social ranking, differently for BAS/BIS components. The present results suggest that social status perception is directly modulated by cortical activity and personality correlates.
- Alpha band
- Social ranking