DOI: 10.1002/aur.3013 ISSN:

Greater interpersonal distance in adults with autism

Martina Fusaro, Valentina Fanti, Bhismadev Chakrabarti
  • Genetics (clinical)
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • General Neuroscience


Social interactions are often shaped by the space we prefer to maintain between us and others, that is, interpersonal distance. Being too distant or too close to a stranger can often be perceived as odd, and lead to atypical social interactions. This calibration of appropriate interpersonal distance thus constitutes an important social skill. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD, hereafter autism) often experience difficulties with this skill, and anecdotal accounts suggest atypical interpersonal distances in their social interactions. In the current study, we systematically measured interpersonal distance in individuals with autism using immersive virtual reality (IVR) to recreate a naturalistic interaction with a full body avatar of a similar age. Participants observed their own virtual body in first‐person perspective, and the other avatar in two tasks: in the first task, they approached the other avatar (active), in the second one they were approached by the other avatar (passive). Two groups of neurotypical and autistic adults, performed both tasks. Autistic adults showed greater interpersonal distance when compared to non‐autistic adults. Additionally, the difference between the passive and active conditions was smaller for non‐autistic compared to autistic adults. Across the full sample, greater interpersonal distance was associated with higher autism‐related traits. This study provides systematic evidence for greater interpersonal distance in autistic adults using a paradigm with high ecological validity and can be useful in informing the design of appropriate environmental adjustments for shared spaces.

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