Low socioeconomic status (SES) increases the risk for developing psychiatric and chronic medical disorders. A stress-related pathway by which low SES may affect mental and physical health is through the perception of holding a low social standing, termed low subjective social status. This proposal implicates overlapping brain regions mediating stress reactivity and socioemotional behaviors as neuroanatomical substrates that could plausibly link subjective social status to health-related outcomes. In a test of this proposal, we used a computational structural neuroimaging method (voxel-based morphometry) in a healthy community sample to examine the relationships between reports of subjective social status and regional gray matter volume. Results showed that after accounting for potential demographic confounds, subclinical depressive symptoms, dispositional forms of negative emotionality and conventional indicators of SES, self-reports of low subjective social status uniquely covaried with reduced gray matter volume in the perigenual area of the anterior cingulate cortex (pACC)—a brain region involved in experiencing emotions and regulating behavioral and physiological reactivity to psychosocial stress. The pACC may represent a neuroanatomical substrate by which perceived social standing relates to mental and physical health.
Gianaros, P. J., Horenstein, J. A., Cohen, S., Matthews, K. A., Brown, S. M., Flory, J. D. . . . Hariri, A. R. (2007). Perigenual anterior cingulate morphology covaries with perceived social standing. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 2(3), 161-173. doi:10.1093/scan/nsm013.