Abstract

To navigate the social world, humans must represent social entities and the relationships between those entities, starting with spatial relationships. Recent research suggests that two bodies are processed with particularly high efficiency in visual perception, when they are in a spatial positioning that cues interaction, that is, close and face-to-face. Socially relevant spatial relations such as facingness may facilitate visual perception by triggering grouping of bodies into a new integrated percept, which would make the stimuli more visible and easier to process. We used EEG and a frequency-tagging paradigm to measure a neural correlate of grouping (or visual binding), while female and male participants saw images of two bodies face-to-face or back-to-back. The two bodies in a dyad flickered at frequency F1 and F2, respectively, and appeared together at a third frequency Fd (dyad frequency). This stimulation should elicit a periodic neural response for each body at F1 and F2, and a third response at Fd, which would be larger for face-to-face (vs. back-to-back) bodies, if those stimuli yield additional integrative processing. Results showed that responses at F1 and F2 were higher for upright than for inverted bodies, demonstrating that our paradigm could capture neural activity associated with viewing bodies. Crucially, the response to dyads at Fd was larger for face-to-face (vs. back-to-back) dyads, suggesting integration mediated by grouping. We propose that spatial relations that recur in social interaction (i.e., facingness) promote binding of multiple bodies into a new representation. This mechanism can explain how the visual system contributes to integrating and transforming the representation of disconnected body shapes into structured representations of social events.

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