Philosophy of perception is guilty of focusing on the perception of far space, neglecting the possibility that the perception of the space immediately surrounding the body, which is known as peripersonal space, displays different properties. Peripersonal space is the space in which the world is literally at hand for interaction. It is also the space in which the world can become threatening and dangerous, requiring protective behaviours. Recent research in cognitive neuroscience has yielded a vast array of discoveries on the multisensory and sensorimotor specificities of the processing of peripersonal space. Yet very little has been done on their philosophical implications. Here I will raise the following question: in what manner does the visual experience of a big rock close to my foot differ from the visual experience of the moon in the sky?
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
For exception, see for instance Ferretti (2016).
For instance, Rizzolatti and coll. found that half of the bimodal neurons responded only when the visual stimulus was within 10 cm of the body surface while the rest fired mainly when the visual stimulus was within reach of the arm. Graziano and Cooke (2006), on the other hand, describe that half of the neurons gives a strong response only when the visual stimulus is within 5 cm of the body surface; and most of the rest give a response when the visual stimulus is within 20 cm of the body surface.
Similar multisensory effects have been found with auditory stimuli (Canzoneri et al. 2012).
It should be noted that there are more than one definition of the egocentric frame. For some, for instance, the egocentric space is simply the action space (Evans 1985; Briscoe 2009; Ferretti 2016; Smith 2009). On this view, one may then claim that peripersonal perception is encoded in egocentric coordinates. However, by using such a wide definition, one risks losing part of the spatial specificity of peripersonal perception.
The distinction is well illustrated in the cross-modal congruency effect. We just saw that when the hands are uncrossed, visual stimuli close to the left hand presented on the left side of the body affect tactile processing on the left hand. What happens when the hands are crossed? Then visual stimuli presented at the same egocentric location (on the left) but now close to the right hand affect tactile processing on the right hand. What matters is bodily location (left hand vs. right hand), and not egocentric location (on the left vs. on the right).
Two points are worth noting here. First, the definition does not assume that objects and events are encoded exclusively in bodily coordinates. Arguably, they are also encoded in egocentric coordinates. Secondly, by apparent bodily boundaries, I mean the boundaries of the body as they are mentally represented. For instance, amputees represent the space that surrounds their phantom limb as peripersonal but the phantom itself is not part of peripersonal space, it is part of their apparent bodily space.
The studies also control for the impact of other potential confounds. In brief, the effects cannot be explained by a higher visibility close to the hand, by the fact that participants give manual replies, or by the fact that viewing the hand attracts attention.
Lourenco and Longo (2009) assess the extent of peripersonal space by measuring a specific visual bias found only in peripersonal perception. When bisecting horizontal lines close to the body, individuals show a slight leftward bias, which shifts rightward when the line is presented in far space (Longo and Lourenco 2006). They found that individuals wearing wrist weights showed a less gradual rightward shift in the bias.
In his paper ‘Visual experience and motor action: Are the bonds too tight?’, Clark (2001)’s discussion is on the relation between perception and action in general. Here I apply his way of framing the debate on peripersonal perception only. I shall consider differences with the perception of far space in the next section.
There have been many interpretations of the notion of affordances (see Caiani 2013, for instance) but I will focus here only on this alternative.
One way to settle the debate between the two interpretations is to determine whether the spectators displayed some kind of motor readiness to act. Arguably, there is a motor proxy to the feeling of answerability. When experiencing a mandate, one feels that one needs to act and doing nothing then is only inhibiting an urge to do something. This urge most probably results in some level of motor activity. In the music case, for example, when you feel that the music is calling you and that you have to dance, you may start making small rhythmic movements that you cannot help doing, not yet real dancing steps, but still something. If the spectators show no motor readiness to adjust the tie, even inhibited, it then means that they do not feel mandated to do it.
It is interesting to note that there is a three-fold dissociation between personal neglect (bodily space), peripersonal neglect, and extrapersonal neglect. Furthermore, a study that investigated the motor performance of monkeys after a lesion of their ventral premotor cortex (V6A), a cortical area responsible for peripersonal perception, described that the monkeys started to hold their arm close to their body and refused to spontaneously move them (Battaglini et al. 2002). This may follow from the lack of conscious experience of their immediate surrounding.
Siegel (2014) herself suggests that the answerability content must have a valence.
Abrams, R. A., Davoli, C. C., Du, F., Knapp, W. H., & Paull, D. (2008). Altered vision near the hands. Cognition, 107(3), 1035–1047.
Avenanti, A., Annela, L., & Serino, A. (2012). Suppression of premotor cortex disrupts motor coding of peripersonal space. Neuroimage, 63(1), 281–288.
Bain, D. (2013). What makes pains unpleasant? Philosophical Studies, 166, S69–S89.
Bartolo, A., Coello, Y., Edwards, M. G., Delepoulle, S., Endo, S., & Wing, A. M. (2014). Contribution of the motor system to the perception of reachable space: An fMRI study. European Journal of Neuroscience, 40(12), 3807–3817.
Bassolino, M., Finisguerra, A., Canzoneri, E., Serino, A., & Pozzo, T. (2015). Dissociating effect of upper limb non-use and overuse on space and body representations. Neuropsychologia, 70, 385–392.
Battaglini, P. P., Muzur, A., Galletti, C., Skrap, M., Brovelli, A., & Fattori, P. (2002). Effects of lesions to area V6A in monkeys. Experimental Brain Research, 144(3), 419–422.
Bhalla, M., & Proffitt, D. R. (1999). Visual-motor recalibration in geographical slant perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 25(4), 1076–1096.
Blini, E., Desoche, C., Salemme, R., Kabil, A., Hadj-Bouziane, F., Farnè, A. (in press). Mind the depth: Visual perception of shapes is better in peripersonal space. Psychological Science.
Briscoe, R. (2009). Egocentric spatial representation in action and perception. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 79, 423–460.
Briscoe, R., & Schwenkler, J. (2015). Conscious vision in action. Cognitive Science, 39, 1435–1467.
Brozzoli, C., Makin, T. R., Cardinali, L., Holmes, N. P., & Farnè, A. (2012). Peripersonal space: A multisensory interface for body–object interactions. In M. M. Murray & M. T. Wallace (Eds.), The neural bases of multisensory processes. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Caiani, S. Z. (2013). Extending the notion of affordance. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 13, 275–293.
Canzoneri, E., Magosso, E., & Serino, A. (2012). Dynamic sounds capture the boundaries of peripersonal space representation in humans. PLoS ONE, 7(9), e44306.
Canzoneri, E., Marzolla, M., Amoresano, A., Verni, G., & Serino, A. (2013). Amputation and prosthesis implantation shape body and peripersonal space representations. Scientific Reports, 3, 2844.
Cardinali, L., Frassinetti, F., Brozzoli, C., Urquizar, C., Roy, A. C., & Farnè, A. (2009). Tool-use induces morphological updating of the body schema. Current Biology, 19(12), R478–R479.
Chemero, A. (2003). An outline of a theory of affordances. Ecological Psychology, 15(2), 181–195.
Clark, A. (2001). Visual experience and motor action: Are the bonds too tight? Philosophical Review, 110(4), 495–519.
Costantini, M., Ambrosini, E., Tieri, G., Sinigaglia, C., & Committeri, G. (2010). Where does an object trigger an action? An investigation about affordances in space. Experimental Brain Research, 207(1–2), 95–103.
Cussins, A. (2012). Environmental representation of the body. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 3(1), 15–32.
Cutting, J. E., & Vishton, P. M. (1995). Perceiving layout and knowing distances: The integration, relative potency, and contextual use of different information about depth. In W. Epstein & S. J. Rogers (Eds.), Perception of space and motion (pp. 69–117). San Diego: Academic Press.
Di Pellegrino, G., Làdavas, E., & Farnè, A. (1997). Seeing where your hands are. Nature, 388, 730.
Dufour, A., & Touzalin, P. (2008). Improved visual sensitivity in the perihand space. Experimental Brain Research, 190(1), 91–98.
Durgin, F., Baird, J., Greenburg, M., Russell, R., Shaughnessy, K., & Waymouth, S. (2009). Who is being deceived? The experimental demands of wearing a backpack. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16(5), 964–969.
Engel, A. K., Fries, P., & Singer, W. (2001). Dynamic predictions: Oscillations and synchrony in top-down processing. Nature Review Neuroscience, 2(10), 704–716.
Evans, G. (1985). Molyneux’s Question. In A. Phillips (Ed.), The collected papers of gareth evans. London: Oxford University Press.
Ferretti, G. (2016). Visual feeling of presence. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 99, 112–136.
Freud, E., Culham, J. C., Plaut, D. C., & Behrmann, M. (2017). The large-scale organization of shape processing in the ventral and dorsal pathways. eLife, 6, e27576.
Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Boston Mifflin.
Goodhew, S. C., Edwards, M., Ferber, S., & Pratt, J. (2015). Altered visual perception near the hands: A critical review of attentional and neurophysiological models. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 55, 223–233.
Gozli, D. G., West, G. L., & Pratt, J. (2012). Hand position alters vision by biasing processing through different visual pathways. Cognition, 124(2), 244–250.
Grahek, N. (2001). Feeling pain and being in pain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Graziano, M. (2009). The intelligent movement machine: An ethological perspective on the primate motor system. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Graziano, M. S., & Cooke, D. F. (2006). Parieto-frontal interactions, personal space, and defensive behavior. Neuropsychologia, 44(6), 845–859.
Graziano, M. S., & Gross, C. G. (1993). A bimodal map of space: Somatosensory receptive fields in the macaque putamen with corresponding visual receptive fields. Experimental Brain Research, 97, 96–109.
Grush, R. (2007). Skill theory v2.0: Dispositions, emulation, and spatial perception. Synthese, 159(3), 389–416.
Hall, E. T. (1966). The hidden dimension. New York: Doubleday & Co.
Hediger, H. (1950). Wild animals in captivity. London: Butterworths Scientific Publications.
Hyvärinen, J., & Poranen, A. (1974). Function of the parietal associative area 7 as revealed from cellular discharges in alert monkeys. Brain, 97(4), 673–692.
Iriki, A., Tanaka, M., & Iwamura, Y. (1996). Coding of modified body schema during tool use by macaque postcentral neurones. NeuroReport, 7(14), 2325–2330.
Kelly, S. P., & Brockmole, J. R. (2014). Hand proximity differentially affects visual working memory for color and orientation in a binding task. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 318.
Klein, C. (2015). What the body commands. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Koffka, K. (1935). Principles of Gestalt psychology. London: Kegan Paul Trench, Trubner & Co.
Króliczak, G., Heard, P., Goodale, M. A., & Gregory, R. L. (2006). Dissociation of perception and action unmasked by the hollow-face illusion. Brain Research, 1080(1), 9–16.
Legrain, V., Iannetti, G. D., Plaghki, L., & Mouraux, A. (2011). The pain matrix reloaded: A salience detection system for the body. Progress in Neurobiology, 93(1), 111–124.
Longo, M. R., & Lourenco, S. F. (2006). On the nature of near space: Effects of tool use and the transition to far space. Neuropsychologia, 44(6), 977–981.
Lourenco, S. F., & Longo, M. R. (2009). The plasticity of near space: Evidence for contraction. Cognition, 112(3), 451–456.
Maravita, A., Spence, C., & Driver, J. (2003). Multisensory integration and the body schema: Close to hand and within reach. Current Biology, 13(13), R531–R539.
Martínez, M. (2011). Imperative content and the painfulness of pain. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 10(1), 67–90.
Matthen, M. (2005). Seeing, doing and knowing: A philosophical theory of sense perception. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Milner, A. D., & Goodale, M. A. (1995). The visual brain in action. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Milner, A. D., & Goodale, M. A. (2008). Two visual systems re-viewed. Neuropsychologia, 46(3), 774–785.
Nijboer, T. C. W., Ten Brink, A. F., Kouwenhoven, M., & Visser-Meily, J. M. A. (2014). Functional assessment of region-specific neglect: Are there differential behavioural consequences of peripersonal versus extrapersonal neglect? Behavioural Neurology, 2014, 526407.
Reed, C. L., Betz, R., Garza, J. P., & Roberts, R. J. (2010). Grab it! Biased attention in functional hand and tool space. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 72(1), 236–245.
Reed, C. L., Grubb, J. D., & Steele, C. (2006). Hands up: Attentional prioritization of space near the hand. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 32(1), 166.
Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., & Gallese, V. (1997). The space around us. Science, 277(5323), 190–191.
Rizzolatti, G., Scandolara, C., Matelli, M., & Gentilucci, M. (1981). Afferent properties of periarcuate neurons in macaque monkeys. II. Visual responses. Behavioural Brain Research, 2(2), 147–163.
Siegel, S. (2014). Affordances and the contents of perception. In B. Brogaard (Ed.), Does perception have content?. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, A. (2009). Acting on bodily experiences. Psyche, 5(1), 82–99.
Spence, C., Pavani, F., & Driver, J. (2004). Spatial constraints on visual-tactile cross-modal distractor congruency effects. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 4(2), 148–169.
Tucker, M., & Ellis, R. (1998). On the relations between seen objects and components of potential actions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 24(3), 830–846.
Funding was provided by Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Grant ANR-16-CE28-0015; ANR-17-EURE-0017 FrontCog; ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL).
About this article
Cite this article
de Vignemont, F. Peripersonal perception in action. Synthese 198, 4027–4044 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-01962-4