Social modulation of peripersonal space boundaries
The space around the body, i.e., peripersonal space (PPS), is conceived as a multisensory-motor interface between body and environment. PPS is represented by frontoparietal neurons integrating tactile, visual, and auditory stimuli occurring near the body [1-7]. PPS is plastic, because it extends by using a tool to reach far objects [8-10]. Although interactions with others occur within PPS, little is known about how social environment modulates it. Here, we show that presence and interaction with others shape PPS representation. Participants performed a tactile detection task on their face while concurrent task-irrelevant sounds approached toward or receded from their face. Because a sound affects touch when occurring within PPS [6, 10-12], we calculated the critical distance where sounds speeded up tactile reaction time as a proxy of PPS boundaries. Experiment 1 shows that PPS boundaries shrink when subjects face another individual, as compared to a mannequin, placed in far space. Experiment 2 and 3 show that, after playing an economic game with another person, PPS boundaries between self and other merge, but only if the other behaved cooperatively. These results reveal that PPS representation is sensitive to social modulation, showing a link between low-level sensorimotor processing and high-level social cognition. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.