Researchers Discover Neurons That Drive Our Competitive Nature and Social Interactions

Competitiveness is a measure of a person’s desire to surpass others. We all have that desire, however, its intensity varies from individual to individual. While some are highly competitive and see every situation as a competition, others shy away from creating competitive scenarios. As human beings, we also need to interact and like our competitive nature, the intensity of our need to interact varies.

Neuronal Activity

Neuronal Activity

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We know that the brain is a storehouse of memories that play a significant role in shaping how we act and the roles we take upon ourselves in society, but what neurons in the brain do this? Are there neurons in the brain which stimulated can alter the nature of each individual’s effort to compete and control their capability to successfully contend against others?

New research published in Nature by a team led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has discovered these neurons in the brain which drive the competitive relations between individuals.


Before now, neuroscience research focused on studying interactions of pairs of individuals acting alone which has limited the understanding of the complex dynamic behavior of social groups. However, this time, by exposing large cohorts of mice to different social groups and observing their interactions via a wireless tracker, scientists discovered a pattern in their mode of interactions.

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William Li, an MD/Ph.D. student at MGH and the lead author of the research, and his associates discovered that the social rankings of the animals in the group were nearly linked to the results of the competition and by examining recordings from neurons of the mice in real-time, they discovered that neurons in the anterior cingulate region of the brain store this social ranking information to shape forthcoming opinions the mice made in new groups.

They discovered that collectively, these neurons held exceptionally detailed representations of the group’s behavior and their dynamics as the animals competed together for food, in addition to information about the resources available and the result of their past interactions.

When manipulated, these neurons increased or decreased the competitive efforts of the animals, and thus controlled their ability to successfully compete against each other.

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The finding proved that the success of an animal in an environment depends not on the physical fitness of an animal but on signals from its brain which inform it of its past experiences and shape how it responds to new events.

Clinical significance

Human interactions are important for effective functioning. Disorders such as autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia result in an inability of humans to communicate and interact with others. However, an understanding of the neurons which control this process would give insight into discovering a treatment for disorders that affect the ability of the human being to interact.


The anterior cingulate region of the brain acts as a storehouse for information obtained during our interactions with other individuals and makes this information available to us for use when we are exposed to other social groups.  These neurons can be stimulated to affect how we behave in situations and provide insight into cures for disorders in human behavior.

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Frontal neurons driving competitive behaviour and ecology of social groups



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