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Scientists discover brain's neural switch for becoming an alpha male
Brash, brawny and keen to impose their will on anyone who enters their sphere of existence: the alpha male in action is unmistakable.
Now scientists claim to have pinpointed the biological root of domineering behaviour. New research has located a brain circuit that, when activated in mice, transformed timid individuals into bold alpha mice that almost always prevailed in aggressive social encounters.
In some cases, the social ranking of the subordinate mice soared after the scientists’ intervention, hinting that it might be possible to acquire “alphaness” simply by adopting the appropriate mental attitude. Or as Donald Trump might put it: “My whole life is about winning. I almost never lose.”
Prof Hailan Hu, a neuroscientist at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, who led the work said: “We stimulate this brain region and we can make lower ranked mice move up the social ladder.”
The brain region, called the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), was already known to light up during social interactions involving decisions about whether to be assertive or submissive with others. But brain imaging alone could not determine whether the circuit was ultimately controlling how people behave.
The latest findings answer the question, showing that when the circuit was artificially switched on, low-ranking mice were immediately emboldened. “It’s not aggressiveness per se,” Hu said. “It increases their perseverance, motivational drive, grit.”