Personal space regulation in childhood autism: Effects of social interaction and person's perspective

Michela Candini, Virginia Giuberti, Alessandra Manattini, Serenella Grittani, Giuseppe di Pellegrino, Francesca Frassinetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies in children with Typical Development (TD) and with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) revealed that autism affects the personal space regulation, influencing both its size (permeability) and its changes depending on social interaction (flexibility). Here, we investigate how the nature of social interaction (Cooperative vs. Uncooperative) and the person perspective influence permeability and flexibility of interpersonal distance. Moreover, we tested whether the deficit observed in ASD children, reflects the social impairment (SI) in daily interactions. The stop-distance paradigm was used to measure the preferred distance between the participant and an unfamiliar adult (first-person perspective, Experiment 1), and between two other people (third-person perspective, Experiment 2). Interpersonal distance was measured before and after the interaction with a confederate. The Wing Subgroups Questionnaire was used to evaluate SI in everyday activities, and each ASD participant was accordingly assigned either to the lower (children with low social impairment [low-SI ASD]), or to the higher SI group (children with high social impairment [high-SI ASD]). We observed larger interpersonal distance (permeability) in both ASD groups compared to TD children. Moreover, depending on the nature of social interaction, a modulation of interpersonal distance (flexibility) was observed in TD children, both from the first- and third-person perspective. Similar findings were found in low-SI but not in high-SI ASD children, in Experiment 1. Conversely, in Experiment 2, no change was observed in both ASD groups. These findings reveal that SI severity and a person's perspective may account for the deficit observed in autism when flexibility, but not permeability, of personal space is considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-154
Number of pages10
JournalAutism Research
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • Autism
  • Interpersonal distance
  • Perspective taking
  • Social interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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