Visual perspective, distance, and felt presence of others in dreams


  • Erdeniz Burak
  • Tekgün Ege
  • Lenggenhager Bigna
  • Lopez Christophe

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The peripersonal space, that is, the limited space surrounding the body, involves multisensory coding and representation of the self in space. Previous studies have shown that peripersonal space representation and the visual perspective on the environment can be dramatically altered when neurotypical individuals self-identify with a distant avatar (i.e., in virtual reality) or during clinical conditions (i.e., out-of-body experience, heautoscopy, depersonalization). Despite its role in many cognitive/social functions, the perception of peripersonal space in dreams, and its relationship with the perception of other characters (interpersonal distance in dreams), remain largely uncharted. The present study aimed to explore the visuospatial properties of this space, which is likely to underlie self-location as well as self/other distinction in dreams. 530 healthy volunteers answered a web-based questionnaire to measure their dominant visuo-spatial perspective in dreams, the frequency of recall for felt distances between their dream self and other dream characters, and the dreamers’ viewing angle of other dream characters. Most participants reported dream experiences from a first-person perspective (1PP) (82%) compared to a third-person perspective (3PP) (18%). Independent of their dream perspective, participants reported that they generally perceived other dream characters in their close space, that is, at distance of either between 0 and 90 cm, or 90–180 cm, than in further spaces (180–270 cm). Regardless of the perspective (1PP or 3PP), both groups also reported more frequently seeing other dream characters from eye level (0° angle of viewing) than from above (30° and 60°) or below eye level (−30° and −60°). Moreover, the intensity of sensory experiences in dreams, as measured by the Bodily Self-Consciousness in Dreams Questionnaire, was higher in individuals who habitually see other dream characters closer to their personal dream self (i.e., within 0–90 cm and 90–180 cm). These preliminary findings offer a new, phenomenological account of space representation in dreams with regards to the felt presence of others. They might provide insights not only to our understanding of how dreams are formed, but also to the type of neurocomputations involved in self/other distinction.

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