Research

Social status may enter genes

As you know, it’s better to be rich and healthy thanpoor and sick. Indeed: those who are at the bottom of the social ladder most often live a shorter life than those at the top. According to a new study conducted on monkeys, the stress of life at the bottom of the social ladder can have long-term health effects that even an unexpected increase in well-being cannot correct.

Long-term stress due to their social status can be imprinted in the genes of primates and humans

Can genes remember information?

Researchers-led Team Resultsfrom Duke University and the University of Chicago, taken from a long-term study of 45 female Rhesus monkeys living in the Yerks National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. Scientists suggest that those individuals who manage to advance up the social hierarchy most often show signs of their once low status at the cellular level, even after they manage to significantly rise in rank among their relatives.

Macaque females are known to fight each otherfor status until a certain hierarchy is established and each individual finds its place in it. Dominant females, as a rule, do whatever they want, receiving the first portion of food and additional space, while often showing unwarranted aggression on other individuals in order to show who is the boss.

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During the experiment, researchers placedunfamiliar female rhesus monkeys in groups of five individuals, introducing each of them into the cage separately. It turned out that macaques understand who is in charge, based on the principle of seniority. So, “newcomers” inevitably fell into the trap, trying to less conflict and retreat more often than other members of the group. After a year, the researchers shuffled the groups and again introduced the monkeys in a different order, thus establishing a new social regime.

Long-term stress can reduce the activity of immunity genes, making a living creature passive and prone to concessions

As the membership of Rhesus macaque has changedin the new group, its social status also changed. So, some monkeys that were targets in the first group were able to advance up the stairs and became more dominant; the authority of other individuals decreased significantly, forcing the monkeys to become more submissive. However, the results of the study show that the current social rank of a monkey among its relatives is not the only one that matters - its past status also plays an important role. So, the team of scientists was able to identify 3,735 different genes, the activity of which was influenced by the former place of the monkey in the hierarchy, regardless of how its position changed over time.

Those females whose rating in the group fell a notchor two down the social ladder, demonstrated the strong influence of their recent demotion on their genes. An even more surprising fact was that even when females moved up the social ladder, the oppression they experienced in the past still had a lasting effect on their immune genes, greatly affecting their behavior.

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Professor Jenny Tang, who conducted the study,claims that any living creature on the planet has a certain amount of information that contains data on the past low social status, forcing us to constantly stay alert and behave accordingly to internal beliefs about ourselves and our social status. In addition, this discovery shows that the biological processes of personality formation in a particular team work even in adulthood, based on social experience.