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Interrelation between the sensorimotor and emotional components of social space : behavioral and psychophysiological evidence

Abstract : The distance individuals maintain between themselves in social context (interpersonal distance) is of paramount importance as it contributes to the quality of the social interaction. Too large interpersonal distance is not conducive to social interaction whereas too short interpersonal distance triggers discomfort and favors (physiological and behavioral) defensive reactions. Interpersonal distance seems thus built on motor/functional representation of visual space, with a prevalent role of near body action space (i.e., the peripersonal space), but seems to depend also on social factors. Therefore, interpersonal distance adjustment may rely on a subtle balance between the need to interact efficiently with others and the need to maintain a margin of safety protecting from potential hazard including others. As a result, interpersonal distance increases with threatening individuals and decreases with attractive ones, which depends on others’ emotional state that can be determined from their facial expression. However, valence evaluation of facial expression, irrespective of the emotion, is not absolute and depends also on the emotional context. In this context, the aim of the present thesis was twofold: (1) to qualify the link between interpersonal distance and the physiological response triggered by individuals within the peripersonal space with varying degrees of threat; (2) to quantify the effect of emotional context on interpersonal distance adjustment. Using a virtual reality environment, known to favor immersion and “authentic” physiological and behavioral responses, we highlighted a linear relation between physiological response and interpersonal distance adjustment. Moreover, our data revealed that contrast effect induced by emotional context on valence judgment (shift toward the opposite direction of that of the context) also subtly altered interpersonal distance adjustment. Overall, the present thesis suggests that interpersonal distance adjustment depends both on the representation of peripersonal space and the emotional context. Our data support that interpersonal distance adjustment refers to the need for homeostasis during social interaction in relation with the defensive value of the peripersonal space. This distance maintained with others, necessary to ensure homeostasis, can indeed be quantified from the physiological response triggered by others within the peripersonal space. Beyond providing new insights on the link between peripersonal space representation, emotional processing and interpersonal distances, the present thesis provides a new theoretical framework that could be relevant for clinical investigations, taking into account in particular sensitivity to interoceptive information.
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Submitted on : Friday, September 10, 2021 - 1:53:10 PM
Last modification on : Saturday, September 11, 2021 - 3:34:38 AM


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  • HAL Id : tel-03340873, version 1



Alice Cartaud. Interrelation between the sensorimotor and emotional components of social space : behavioral and psychophysiological evidence. Psychology. Université de Lille, 2021. English. ⟨NNT : 2021LILUH002⟩. ⟨tel-03340873⟩



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