Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Sci Rep. 2019 Jul 8;9(1):9884. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-46384-5

Walking-related locomotion is facilitated by the perception of distant targets in the extrapersonal space

The Gibsonian notion of affordance has been massively employed in cognitive sciences to characterize the tight interdependence between hand-related actions, manipulable objects and peripersonal space. A behavioural facilitation effect, indeed, is observed for grasping actions directed to objects located in the 'reachable' peripersonal space. Relevantly, this relationship is supported by dedicated neural systems in the brain. The original notion of affordance, however, was directly inspired by real-time interactions between animals and their extended natural environment. Consistently, also the extrapersonal space representation can be significantly modulated by action-related factors, and the brain contains dedicated systems for the representation of topographical space and navigation. Here we examined whether a facilitation effect could be also described for a walking-related action in the far extrapersonal space. To this aim, we employed a go/no-go paradigm requiring subjects to execute a footstep ahead in response to pictures of a virtual reality environment containing objects located at different distances (near, far) and eccentricities (central, peripheral). A walking-related, facilitation effect for distant extrapersonal locations was found, suggesting an automatic trigger of walking by positions that preferentially guide spatial exploration. Based on the parallelism with the literature on micro-affordances, we propose that this effect can be described in terms of "macro-affordances".

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