Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 45, Issue 7, pp 1429–1438 | Cite as

Ecological Momentary Assessment of Affective and Interpersonal Instability in Adolescent Non-Suicidal Self-Injury

  • Philip S. Santangelo
  • Julian Koenig
  • Vera Funke
  • Peter Parzer
  • Franz Resch
  • Ulrich W. Ebner-Priemer
  • Michael KaessEmail author


Affective and interpersonal instability, both core features of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), have been suggested to underlie non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). Ecological momentary assessment (EMA) is the method of choice when investigating dynamic processes. Previously no study addressed affective and interpersonal instability in daily life of adolescents engaging in NSSI. Female adolescents with NSSI (n = 26) and age- and sex-matched healthy controls (n = 20) carried e-diaries on 2 consecutive weekends and were prompted in hourly intervals to rate their momentary affective state and feelings of attachment towards their mother and best friend. The majority of participants in the NSSI group also fulfilled diagnostic criteria for BPD (73%). Squared successive differences were calculated to quantify instability. Adolescents with NSSI reported less positive affect, t (44) = 6.94, p < 0.01, lower levels of attachment to the mother, t (44) = 5.53, p < 0.01, and best friend, t (44) = 4.36, p < 0.01. Both affective, t (44) = −5.55, p < 0.01, and interpersonal instability, mother: t (44) = −4.10, p < 0.01; best friend: t (44) = −4.57, p < 0.01, were significantly greater in adolescents engaging in NSSI. In the NSSI group, the number of BPD criteria met was positively correlated with affective instability, r = 0.40, p < 0.05, and instability of attachment to the best friend, r = 0.42, p < 0.05, but not instability of attachment towards the mother, r = 0.06, p = 0.79. In line with previous work in adults, NSSI is associated with affective and interpersonal instability assessed by EMA in adolescents. Preliminary findings highlight the association of affective and interpersonal instability with diagnostic criteria for BPD. Clinical implications and avenues for further research are discussed.


Adolescence Borderline personality disorder Self-injury Emotional dysregulation Attachment 



Julian Koenig is supported by a Physician-Scientist Scholarship provided by the Medical Faculty, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip S. Santangelo
    • 1
  • Julian Koenig
    • 2
  • Vera Funke
    • 2
  • Peter Parzer
    • 3
  • Franz Resch
    • 3
  • Ulrich W. Ebner-Priemer
    • 1
    • 4
  • Michael Kaess
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Chair of Applied Psychology, Institute of Sport and Sports ScienceKarlsruhe Institute of TechnologyKarlsruheGermany
  2. 2.Section for Translational Psychobiology in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Centre of Psychosocial MedicineUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  3. 3.Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Centre of Psychosocial MedicineUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  4. 4.Central Institute of Mental Health, Medical Faculty MannheimUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany

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