Status hierarchies constitute a fundamental organizing principle of human society. However, little is known about the neural systems that process nonverbal cues that indicate status. Preliminary neuropsychological work has suggested a role for the ventrolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VLPFC/VMPFC) and the superior temporal cortex (STC). We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to delineate the nature of these roles. Analyses revealed signal changes in the right VLPFC in connection with two primary functions attributed to status cues. Status cues moderate behavior and the right VLPFC showed increased signal for high-status relative to neutral and low-status cues. The VLPFC also showed increased signal for high-status cues displayed by individuals of the opposite gender to the perceiver; this may be relevant to the role status cues play in moderating mate choice behavior. Connectivity results indicated significant positive connectivity between the VLPFC and both the VMPFC and the STC. We suggest that the VLPFC retrieves information from these regions when processing hierarchy cues to facilitate socially adaptive behavior.

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