Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 613–626 | Cite as

Examining the Shared and Unique Features of Self-Concept Content and Structure in Borderline Personality Disorder and Depression

  • Davy EvansEmail author
  • Tim Dalgleish
  • Robert B. Dudas
  • Chess Denman
  • Maxine Howard
  • Barnaby D. Dunn
Original Article


A number of clinical theories emphasise self-concept disturbance as central to borderline personality disorder (BPD). To date, however, there has been limited empirical examination of exactly how BPD changes the content and structure of self-concept. Moreover, it is unclear if patterns of self-concept disturbance are unique to BPD or are driven by axis-I comorbidities such as depression. To examine this issue, the present study adopted a dimensional design, examining how performance on a novel adaptation of a well-validated measure of self-concept (the Psychological Distance Scaling Task) was related to BPD and depression symptoms in a sample of 93 individuals with a wide range of symptom severity. While greater BPD severity was associated with less positive and more negative content of self-concept, this was driven by depression symptoms. Similarly, positive content was more diffuse and negative content more interconnected at higher levels of BPD severity, but for positive content, this was most clearly linked to comorbid depression features. In contrast, BPD severity (over and above depression symptoms) was uniquely associated with greater ‘clustering’ for positive and negative content (i.e. a more fragmented self-concept). This pattern of results lends support to clinical theories arguing that self-concept fragmentation is core to BPD and also supports the utility of dimensional analyses to identify patterns of cognitive-affective disturbance unique to BPD versus those shared with comorbid conditions like depression.


Self-concept Borderline personality disorder Depression Comorbidity 



Thanks to Helena Crockford and Win Bolton for help with recruitment. This study was supported by the UK Medical Research Council (U1055.02.002.00001.01) and was conducted while Davy Evans and Barnaby Dunn worked at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Conflict of interest

Davy Evans, Tim Dalgleish, Robert B Dudas, Chess Denman, Maxine Howard and Barnaby D Dunn declare they have no conflict of interest. The data presented in this study were collected as part of Davy Evans’s doctoral thesis, and have not been presented elsewhere.

Informed Consent

All procedures involving human participants performed in the study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee (CPREC), the Cambridgeshire 2 NHS Research Ethics Committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this paper.

Supplementary material

10608_2015_9695_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (91 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 90 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clinical Office, School of PsychologyUniversity of BirminghamEdgbaston, BirminghamUK
  2. 2.Dudley and Walsall Mental Health Partnership NHS TrustDudleyUK
  3. 3.Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences UnitCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  5. 5.Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation TrustCambridgeUK
  6. 6.Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation TrustNorfolkUK
  7. 7.Clinical, Educational and Health PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  8. 8.Mood Disorders CentreUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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