Caroline Zink of the National Institute of Mental Health says she and her colleagues find people who have higher subjective socioeconomic status have greater brain activity in response to other high-ranked individuals, while those with lower status have a greater response to other low-status individuals.
"The way we interact with and behave around other people is often determined by their social status relative to our own, and therefore information regarding social status is very valuable to us," Zink says in a statement. "Interestingly, the value we assign to information about someone's particular status seems to depend on our own status."
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity of people with varying social status as they were shown information about someone of relatively higher status and information about someone of relatively lower status.
"The value that we place on particular status-related information -- evident by the extent our brain's value centers are activated -- is not the same for everyone and is influenced, at least in part, by our own subjective socioeconomic status," Zink says.
Zink adds that socioeconomic status isn't based solely on money but can also include factors such as accomplishments and habits.
The findings are published in Current Biology.