Evaluating the Effect of Interpersonal Responding on Emotional Sensitivity and Reactivity in Borderline Personality Disorder
AuthorErikson, Karen Murphy
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Major theoretical models of the development and maintenance of borderline personality disorder (BPD) contend that difficulties with affect regulation is the key feature of BPD. These models suggest that chronic problems with affect regulation develop through a transaction between individual vulnerabilities, including emotionalsensitivity and reactivity, and invalidating interpersonal environments. In addition, these models suggest the proximal interpersonal factors may influence emotional sensitivity and reactivity in BPD. However, the research on emotional responding in BPD has not directly examined the impact of interpersonal responses on emotional sensitivity or reactivity. The primary aim of the current study was to examine the effect of validating and invalidating experimental conditions on emotional sensitivity and emotional reactivity with a sample of individuals with a range of borderline personality disorder (BPD) features. A sample of 130 individuals with a range of BPD features were randomly assigned to receiving either validating or invalidating interpersonal feedbackabout their emotional experiences while completing a stressful mental arithmetic task. Participants reported their emotional arousal throughout the task, and then completed a morphing facial affect task, which provided a behavioral measure of emotionalsensitivity. Results indicated that although BPD features did not predict emotional sensitivity within the validation condition, participants with greater BPD features had longer response latencies (slower responses) for identifying emotions within theinvalidation condition. Individuals with greater BPD features also demonstrated greater emotional reactivity in both the validating and invalidation conditions. Overall, this study provides general support for Linehan's biopsychosocial theory of BPD. In addition, emotional sensitivity in BPD does not appear to be a static feature of BPD, butrather appears to be context dependent, with invalidating (but not validating) interpersonal feedback resulting in delayed recognition of emotional stimuli.