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Virtual Reality Immersion Rescales Regulation of Interpersonal Distance in Controls but not in Autism Spectrum Disorder


Interpersonal distance (IPD) is a simple social regulation metric which is altered in autism. We performed a stop-distance paradigm to evaluate IPD regulation in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and control groups in a real versus a virtual environment mimicking in detail the real one. We found a bimodal pattern of IPDs only in ASD. Both groups showed high IPD correlations between real and virtual environments, but the significantly larger slope in the control group suggests rescaling, which was absent in ASD. We argue that loss of nuances like non-verbal communication, such as perception of subtle body gestures in the virtual environment, lead to changed regulation of IPD in controls, whilst ASD participants show similar deficits in perceiving such subtle cues in both environments.

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This work was funded by Project UID/4950/2020, Strategic Project and UID/NEU/04539/2013/ POCI-01-0145-FEDER-007440 and Fellowships SFRH/BD/77044/2011 (to MS) and SFRH/BD/102779/2014 (to SM) of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) (Portugal); BIGDATIMAGE (CENTRO-01-0145-FEDER-000016), COMPETE; and FP7-HEALTH-2013-INNOVATION-1-602186—BRAINTRAIN, of the European Commission/Seventh Framework Program, Fundacao Luso Americana para o Desenvolvimento Award Number: FLAD Life Sciences ED2, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia: PAC-POCI-01-0145-FEDER-016428 MEDPERSYST, PCIF/SSO/0082/2018, CONNECT.BCI POCI-01-0145-FEDER-30852.

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Correspondence to Miguel Castelo-Branco.

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Simões, M., Mouga, S., Pereira, A.C. et al. Virtual Reality Immersion Rescales Regulation of Interpersonal Distance in Controls but not in Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 50, 4317–4328 (2020).

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  • ASD
  • Interpersonal distance
  • Personal space regulation
  • Virtual reality
  • Virtual rehabilitation