The space between people, or 'interpersonal distance', creates and defines the dynamics of social interactions and is a salient cue signaling responsiveness and feeling comfortable. This distance is implicit yet clearly felt, especially if someone stands closer or farther away than expected. Increasing evidence suggests that Oxytocin (OT) serves as a social hormone in humans, and that one of its roles may be to alter the perceptual salience of social cues. Considering that empathic ability may shape the way individuals process social stimuli, we predicted that OT will differentially affect preferred interpersonal distance depending on individual differences in empathy. Participants took part in two interpersonal distance experiments: In the first, they had to stop a (computer visualized) protagonist when feeling most comfortable; in the second, they were asked to choose the room in which they would later discuss intimate topics with another. Both experiments revealed an interaction between the effect of OT and empathy level. Among highly empathic individuals, OT promoted the choice of closer interpersonal distances. Yet, OT had an opposite effect on individuals with low empathic traits. We conclude that the enhancement of social cues following OT administration may have opposite effects on individuals with different empathic abilities.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the 2010 National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) Independent Investigator Award (Shamay-Tsoory).
© 2014 The Author.
- Interpersonal distance
- Social distance