The research was performed on 49 female monkeys. They were pulled out of their families and forced into new groups that the researchers created. Why females? Male monkeys tend to switch families (they have a looser concept of what a family is than we do) while the female monkeys almost never do.
Researchers were quick to point out the parallels with impoverished humans, who tend to have worse health than those better off.
The scientists then looked at the monkey’s DNA. What they found was that being in a position of dominance resulted in more ‘methyl groups’, which genes turn on and off.
Jenny Tung, one of the lead researchers on the project and the lead author, told Gizmodo in an email:
Because all the study subjects had been middle ranking in their original groups, we can infer that it was the new dominance ranks they adopted that explained rank-related gene expression. We think that social stress explains these effects because a great deal of research has linked lower rank to increased social stress in captive female macaques (and for primates in some other settings as well), and in fact we were able to measure stress hormone dysregulation in our study subjects indicative of chronic stress.
But the fact that the genetic condition changes when individuals rise in rank means one very, very good thing: we can make a drug for that. Once we figure out the biological cause of the shift, it is a simple (okay, maybe not so simple) matter of coding a substance to do the same thing.
In a few decades, we might all feel like we’re kings of the world.