The region surrounding our body (i.e. peripersonal space) is coded in a multimodal representation by fronto-parietal bimodal neurons integrating tactile stimuli on the body with nearby visual stimuli. This has often been suggested to serve a defensive purpose, which we propose could be mediated through visuotactile predictions. An approaching threat would then be of particular interest to peripersonal space processing. To investigate this, we asked participants to respond as fast as possible to a tactile stimulus on the hand, while looking at an animation of an approaching or receding spider or butterfly. Tactile stimulation was applied at one of 25 possible time points during the animation. Tactile reaction times were faster when an approaching stimulus was closer to the hand at the time of tactile presentation. Critically, this effect of distance on reaction times was larger when participants saw an approaching spider compared to an approaching butterfly, but only for participants who were afraid of spiders. This finding demonstrates that the perceived threat of an approaching stimulus modulates visuotactile interactions in peripersonal space and is consistent with the idea that visuotactile predictions are important for defensive purposes and maintaining bodily integrity.
Keywords: Approaching threat; Near space defensive; Peripersonal space; Visuotactile prediction; Visuotactile processing.