What it takes to be at the top: The interrelationship between chronic social stress and social dominance

Merima Šabanović, He Liu, Vongai Mlambo, Hala Aqel, Dipesh Chaudhury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Dominance hierarchies of social animal groups are very sensitive to stress. Stress experienced prior to social interactions between conspecifics may be a determinant of their future social dynamics. Additionally, long-term occupancy of a specific hierarchical rank can have psychophysiological effects which increase vulnerability to future stressors. Methods: We aimed to delineate differential effects of stress acting before or after hierarchy formation. We studied whether exposure to the chronic social defeat stress (CSDS) paradigm before a two-week-long hierarchy formation affected the attainment of a dominant status using the social confrontation tube test (TT). These animals were singly housed for at least one week before CSDS to decrease confounding effects of prior hierarchy experience. Additionally, we investigated whether social rank predicted vulnerability to CSDS, measured by a social interaction test. Results: In TT, mice termed as dominant (high rank) win the majority of social confrontations, while the subordinates (low rank) lose more often. Within newly established hierarchies of stress-naïve mice, the subordinate, but not dominant, mice exhibited significantly greater avoidance of novel social targets. However, following exposure to CSDS, both lowest- and highest-ranked mice exhibited susceptibility to stress as measured by decreased interactions with a novel social target. In contrast, after CSDS, both stress-susceptible (socially avoidant) and stress-resilient (social) mice were able to attain dominant ranks in newly established hierarchies. Conclusion: These results suggest that the response to CSDS did not determine social rank in new cohorts, but low-status mice in newly established groups exhibited lower sociability to novel social targets. Interestingly, exposure of a hierarchical social group to chronic social stress led to stress susceptibility in both high- and low-status mice as measured by social interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01896
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • anxiety
  • chronic social stress
  • sociability
  • social dominance
  • social hierarchy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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