Proximity Bias Following Affective Metaphors in Patients With Depression—Psychoanalytic Considerations

Iftah Biran, Assaf Tripto, Anat Arbel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Many languages use spatial metaphors to describe affective states such as an upward bias to denote positive mood, a downward bias to denote negative mood, a body proximity bias to denote personal relatedness concern, and a right-left bias to denote negative or positive valence. These biases might be related to experiential traces related to these affective states. If this is the case, depressed subjects would show either a downward spatial bias, a body proximity bias, or a right-left shift in attention. We evaluated the occurrence of such biases in subjects with depression compared to healthy controls. Methods: Subjects: 10 subjects with depression (5F:5M; age = 47.2 ± 15.2) and 10 healthy controls (5F:5M; age = 45.8 ± 14.5). Experimental task: line bisection task. Lines were presented in three spatial orientations [vertical (up-down), horizontal (right-left), radial (proximal-distal)] and were either blank, composed with words (negative/positive/neutral), or with smileys (negative/positive/neutral). There were 21 line types, and each was presented eight times, reaching a total of 168 lines. Results: Compared with healthy controls, subjects with depression bisected radial lines significantly closer to their body. There were no significant differences for either horizontal or vertical lines. Conclusion: The proximity spatial bias observed in subjects with depression suggests that depression might activate neural spatial networks. We argue that these networks could be dynamically activated through narcissistic mechanisms as implied in “Mourning and Melancholia” where Freud postulates a narcissistic mediated bias in depression according to which the depressed subjects withdraw from the outside world.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2438
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - 6 Nov 2019


  • depression
  • embodiment
  • line bisection
  • metaphors
  • spatial attention


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