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Peripersonal perception in action

Abstract

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?

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For exception, see for instance Ferretti (2016).

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    Similar multisensory effects have been found with auditory stimuli (Canzoneri et al. 2012).

  4. 4.

    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.

  5. 5.

    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).

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    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.

  8. 8.

    For further discussion on the interaction between the ventral and the dorsal stream, see Briscoe (2009), Briscoe and Schwenkler (2015), and Matthen (2005).

  9. 9.

    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.

  10. 10.

    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.

  11. 11.

    There have been many interpretations of the notion of affordances (see Caiani 2013, for instance) but I will focus here only on this alternative.

  12. 12.

    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.

  13. 13.

    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.

  14. 14.

    Siegel (2014) herself suggests that the answerability content must have a valence.

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Acknowledgements

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).

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Correspondence to Frédérique de Vignemont.

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de Vignemont, F. Peripersonal perception in action. Synthese 198, 4027–4044 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-01962-4

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Keywords

  • Peripersonal
  • Perception
  • Space
  • Body
  • Action
  • Pain
  • Affordance
  • Egocentric
  • Threat