The Role of the Orbitofrontal Cortex in Regulation of Interpersonal Space: Evidence from Frontal Lesion and Frontotemporal Dementia Patients


Interpersonal distance is central to communication and complex social behaviors but the neural correlates of interpersonal distance preferences are not defined. Previous studies suggest that damage to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is associated with impaired interpersonal behavior. To examine whether the OFC is critical for maintaining appropriate interpersonal distance, we tested two groups of patients with OFC damage: Patients with OFC lesions and patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. These two groups were compared to healthy controls and to patients with lesions restricted to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Only patients with OFC damage showed abnormal interpersonal distance preferences, which were significantly different from both controls and patients with dorsolateral prefrontal damage. The comfortable distances these patients chose with strangers were significantly closer than the other groups and resembled distances normally used with close others. These results shed light on the role of the OFC in regulating social behavior and may serve as a simple diagnostic tool for dementia or lesion patients.