SES Influences Neural & Inflammatory Responses to Stress

Social hierarchies are ubiquitous in the modern world, and as such, throughout our lifetime, we must navigate adolescent cliques in high school, organizational hierarchies in the workplace, and being “sized up” at friends’ weddings and dinner parties. Beyond these more local hierarchies, we are also embedded in a wider socioeconomic structure that is plagued by widening gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots.” One line of work in our lab explores how a person’s standing in a social hierarchy--both locally and structurally-- influences neural and physiological responses during social interactions. We also investigate the implications of these responses for social behavior, health and well-being. To date, we have found that individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those who see themselves as standing lower on the “social ladder” are more likely to activate neural systems involved in mentalizing, or thinking about the thoughts and feelings of others, when perceiving social information. At UNC, we are following-up on this work to examine how experimentally-manipulating people’s perceptions of the their social status and the amount of inequality in a social group to examine how these factors affect neural regions engaged during social threat responding and risky decision-making.