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What is peripersonal space? An examination of unresolved empirical issues and emerging findings

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Findings from diverse fields of study, including neuroscience, psychology, zoology, and sociology, demonstrate that human and non‐human primates maintain a representation of the space immediately surrounding the body, known as peripersonal space (PPS). However, progress in this field has been hampered by the lack of an agreed upon definition of PPS. Since the beginning of its formal study, scientists have argued that PPS plays a crucial role in both defensive and non‐defensive actions. Yet consensus is lacking about the cognitive and neural instantiation of these functions. In particular, researchers have begun to ask whether a single, unified system of spatial‐attentional resources supports both the defensive and non‐defensive functions of PPS or, rather, whether there are multiple, independent systems. Moreover, there are open questions about the specificity of PPS. For example: Does PPS dissociate from other well‐known phenomena such as personal space and the body schema? Finally, emerging research has brought attention to important questions about individual differences in the flexibility of PPS and the distribution of PPS in front compared to behind the body. In this advanced review, we shed light on questions about the nature of PPS, offering answers when the research permits or providing recommendations for achieving answers in future research. In so doing, we lay the groundwork for a comprehensive definition of PPS.

This article is categorized under:

  • Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition
  • Psychology > Attention
  • Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics
  • Neuroscience > Plasticity
Receptive fields for bimodal visual‐tactile neurons associated with the macaque face and hand, depicting the range for which these neurons were activated. Black wedge and dot indicate the region from which the researchers conducted their recordings (Reprinted with permission from Graziano, Hu, and Gross () Copyright 1997 by the American Physiological Society)
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Scatterplot of the relation between trait claustrophobic fear, as measured by the claustrophobia questionnaire (CLQ), and the rate of the rightward shift of participants' estimates on the visual line bisection task when using sticks (Hunley et al., ). Larger rightward shifts are indicative of smaller peripersonal space (PPS). When using a stick to bisect lines, individuals higher in claustrophobic fear had smaller PPS, suggesting decreased expansion of PPS among these individuals and, thus, less flexibility in their PPS representations
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According to de Vignemont and Iannetti (), a single system of peripersonal space (PPS) (left) would represent both threatening (e.g., a spider) and nonthreatening (e.g., an apple) stimuli on a common map of PPS. By contrast, a multiple (two) systems perspective (right) would include separate maps for defensive and non‐defensive (i.e., “working”) functions (Reprinted with permission from de Vignemont and Iannetti (). Copyright 2014 Elsevier Ltd.)
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Waveform depicting average muscular responses from participants at “ultra‐far” (60 cm), “far” (40 cm), “near” (20 cm), and “ultra‐near” (4 cm) distances during the hand blink reflex (HBR) task. Greater waveform activity represents a stronger HBR. Source: Sambo and Iannetti ()
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Both figures include data from the studies of Longo and Lourenco () and Lourenco et al. (). Left figure: Scatterplot of the relation between arm length and the rate of participants' rightward shift on the visual line bisection task. Longer arms were associated with more gradual rightward shifts in bias, indicative of larger peripersonal spaces. Right figure: Participants' mean estimates (squares) of center at each distance (error bars 1 SEM). The black line is the mean slope across participants. The red line is the mean slope for participants with short arms (<72.5 cm), and the green line is the mean slope for participants with long arms (≥72.5 cm)
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Cognitive Biology > Evolutionary Roots of Cognition
Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics
Psychology > Attention
Neuroscience > Plasticity

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