A team of neuroscientists have pinpointed an area of the brain, related to motivation and depression that could link trait anxiety to social subordination.
In the study, researchers performed a series of experiments on rats to identify the brain areas involved in trait anxiety and social competition.
The experiments involved categorising rats on a spectrum of trait anxiety, from low-anxious to high-anxious rats, which model trait anxiety.
The experiments highlighted an area of the brain known as the ‘nucleus accumbens,’ which has been long-associated with motivation, reward and depression, in humans too.
When competing socially, most of the high-anxious rats took on a lower social status, technically described as becoming ‘socially subordinate.’
The nucleus accumbens of these particular rats showed a reduced energy metabolism. This involves the mitochondria, which are the cell’s organelles that are in charge of breathing and energy production. The researchers found that the high-anxious rats showed lower mitochondrial function than more relaxed ones.
When rats received blocking agents, their social competitiveness dropped, taking their social status with it. Whereas, when high-anxious rats were given enhancers, rats performed significantly better socially, thereby achieving higher social status.
However, the effects were not permanent. When the drugs wore off, the rats generally returned to their original rung of the social ladder.
The study confirmed that trait anxiety can actually predispose an individual to a lower social status.
The study is published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.