Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Comput Hum Behav. 2021 Dec; 125:106948. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2021.106948

Humans adjust virtual comfort-distance towards an artificial agent depending on their sexual orientation and implicit prejudice against gay men

The interpersonal distance kept by each individual plays a prominent role in daily social interactions and typically communicates implicitly human attitudes toward conspecifics. While it is held that men dyads keep a larger distance than women, information about whether such sex-related distance is moderated by sexual orientation and implicit/explicit sexual prejudice is scarce. To explore this issue, Heterosexual and Non-Heterosexual Men and Women (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual) were immersed in virtual reality and asked to provide comfort-distance judgements in relation to approaching male or female avatars. Results showed that same-sex comfort-distance was smaller for Non-Heterosexual compared to Heterosexual participants. Moreover, the larger distance toward the male avatar kept by Heterosexual Men was associated with the implicit prejudice toward gay men. Our results indicate that comfort-distance demarcation is modulated by sexual orientation and that implicit sexual prejudice leads to increased interpersonal comfort-distance, a possible proxy to avoidant behaviors. Our approach suggests that immersive virtual reality may allow to overcome limitations typical of studies with real participants and provide a unique opportunity to explore the physiological and neural underpinnings of sexuality-related variables that regulate interpersonal distance.

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