Emotion Vulnerability in the Context of Positively Valenced Stimuli: Associations with Borderline Personality Disorder Symptom Severity
Theories of borderline personality disorder (BPD) have posited that emotion vulnerability (including greater baseline emotion intensity, greater emotion reactivity to salient stimuli, and slower return to emotional baseline) is a key etiological factor in the development of the disorder. Despite evidence to suggest that baseline negative emotion is greater in individuals with BPD (and perhaps across psychopathology), less is known about potential patterns of positive emotion vulnerability that may be uniquely associated with BPD symptoms. In the current study, 120 undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory psychology course were shown three positively valenced video clips. Self-report and psychophysiological indices of emotion (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia and galvanic skin response) were measured before, during, and after each clip. Analyses examined associations with BPD and depression symptom severity. Some evidence was found for a more attenuated subjective positive emotional response specific to BPD symptom severity, distinct from the effects of depression severity. Other patterns of associations with BPD severity, including greater baseline negative emotion and attenuated parasympathetic activity, were largely accounted for by depression severity. Results also suggested that positive emotion vulnerability in BPD may be somewhat context specific, and certain positively valenced stimuli (e.g., others expressing positive emotion) may contribute more to attenuated positive emotional responses. More broadly, this study highlights the value in examining how psychopathology may impact emotional responses to positive stimuli specifically.
KeywordsEmotion vulnerability Borderline personality disorder Positive emotion Positive stimuli Emotional reactivity Biosocial theory
The authors wish to acknowledge the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for supporting this research through a Canadian Graduate Scholarship Master’s Award awarded to the first author. We also wish to thank the research assistants who contributed to this project – Ekaterina Kapoustina, Nikoo Norouzian, and Jeffrey Garel.
This research was funded through a Canada Graduate Scholarship Master’s Award from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) awarded to the first author.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
Gregory E. Williams and Amanda A. Uliaszek declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This research was approved by the University of Toronto Research Ethics Board. 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 was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Aleknaviciute, J., Tulen, J. H. M., Kamperman, A. M., de Rijke, Y. B., Kooiman, C. G., & Kushner, S. A. (2016). Borderline and cluster C personality disorders manifest distinct physiological responses to psychosocial stress. [personality disorders 3217]. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 72, 131–138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.06.010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Baschnagel, J. S., Coffey, S. F., Hawk, L. W., Jr., Schumacher, J. A., & Holloman, G. (2013). Psychophysiological assessment of emotional processing in patients with borderline personality disorder with and without comorbid substance use. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 4(3), 203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Beck, A., Steer, R., & Brown, G. (1996b). Manual for the Beck depression inventory-II. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
- Bohus, M., Kleindienst, N., Limberger, M. F., Stieglitz, R.-D., Domsalla, M., Chapman, A. L., et al. (2009). The short version of the borderline symptom list (BSL-23): Development and initial data on psychometric properties. Psychopathology, 42(1), 32–39. https://doi.org/10.1159/000173701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Elices, M., Soler, J., Fernandez, C., Martin-Blanco, A., Jesus Portella, M., Perez, V., et al. (2012). Physiological and self-assessed emotional responses to emotion-eliciting films in borderline personality disorder. [personality disorders 3217]. Psychiatry Research, 200(2–3), 437–443. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2012.07.020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Feliu-Soler, A., Pascual, J. C., Soler, J., Perez, V., Armario, A., Carrasco, J., et al. (2013). Emotional responses to a negative emotion induction procedure in borderline personality disorder. [personality disorders 3217]. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 13(1), 9–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1697-2600%2813%2970002-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Grant, B. F., Chou, S. P., Goldstein, R. B., Huang, B., Stinson, F. S., Saha, T. D., et al. (2008). Prevalence, correlates, disability and comorbidity of DSM-IV borderline personality disorder: Results from the wave 2 national epidemiological survey on alcohol and related conditions. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 69, 533–545. https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.v69n0404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Herpertz, S. C., Kunert, H. J., Schwenger, U. B., & Sass, H. (1999). Affective responsiveness in borderline personality disorder: A psychophysiological approach. [personality disorders 3217]. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(10), 1550–1556. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.156.10.1550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Herpertz, S. C., Schwenger, U. B., Kunert, H. J., Lukas, G., Gretzer, U., Nutzmann, J., et al. (2000). Emotional responses in patients with borderline as compared with avoidant personality disorder. [personality disorders 3217]. Journal of Personality Disorders, 14(4), 339–351. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi.2000.14.4.339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Koenig, J., Kemp, A. H., Feeling, N. R., Thayer, J. F., & Kaess, M. (2016). Resting state vagal tone in borderline personality disorder: A meta-analysis. [personality disorders 3217]. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 64, 18–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2015.07.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kohling, J., Moessner, M., Ehrenthal, J. C., Bauer, S., Cierpka, M., Kammerer, A., et al. (2016). Affective instability and reactivity in depressed patients with and without borderline pathology. [affective disorders 3211]. Journal of Personality Disorders, 30(6), 776–795. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi_2015_29_230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kuo, J. R., & Linehan, M. M. (2009). Disentangling emotion processes in borderline personality disorder: Physiological and self-reported assessment of biological vulnerability, baseline intensity, and reactivity to emotionally evocative stimuli. [personality disorders 3217]. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(3), 531–544. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kuo, J. R., Fitzpatrick, S., Metcalfe, R. K., & McMain, S. (2016). A multi-method laboratory investigation of emotional reactivity and emotion regulation abilities in borderline personality disorder. [personality disorders 3217]. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 50, 52–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.05.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder (diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Matzke, B., Herpertz, S. C., Berger, C., Fleischer, M., & Domes, G. (2014). Facial reactions during emotion recognition in borderline personality disorder: A facial electromyography study. [personality disorders 3217]. Psychopathology, 47(2), 101–110. https://doi.org/10.1159/000351122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Reichenberger, J., Eibl, J. J., Pfaltz, M., Wilhelm, F. H., Voderholzer, U., Hillert, A., et al. (2017). Don't praise me, don't chase me: Emotional reactivity to positive and negative social-evaluative videos in patients with borderline personality disorder. [personality disorders 3217]. Journal of Personality Disorders, 31(1), 75–89. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi_2016_30_238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Santangelo, P., Reinhard, I., Mussgay, L., Steil, R., Sawitzki, G., Klein, C., et al. (2014). Specificity of affective instability in patients with borderline personality disorder compared to posttraumatic stress disorder, bulimia nervosa, and healthy controls. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 123(1), 258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Santangelo, P., Limberger, M., Stiglmayr, C., Houben, M., Coosemans, J., Verleysen, G., et al. (2016). Analyzing subcomponents of affective dysregulation in borderline personality disorder in comparison to other clinical groups using multiple e-diary datasets. Borderline personality disorder and emotion dysregulation, 3(1), 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Staebler, K., Gebhard, R., Barnett, W., & Renneberg, B. (2009). Emotional responses in borderline personality disorder and depression: Assessment during an acute crisis and 8 months later. [psychological disorders 3210]. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 40(1), 85–97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2008.04.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar