Parent Emotion Socialization and Child Emotional Vulnerability as Predictors of Borderline Personality Features

  • Katherine L. Dixon-Gordon
  • Nicholas P. Marsh
  • Kayla E. Balda
  • Julia D. McQuadeEmail author


Although parent emotion socialization and child temperament are theorized to interact in the prediction of borderline personality disorder (BPD) features, few studies have directly examined these relationships. The present study examined whether parental emotion socialization interacted with behavioral ratings and physiological indicators of emotional vulnerability in the prediction of BPD features among preadolescent children. Participants were 125 children (10–12 years; 55% female) and their parents recruited from the community. Parents and children reported on children’s BPD features and parents completed a measure of supportive and non-supportive emotion socialization. Children’s emotional vulnerability was assessed based on parent-rated negativity/lability and emotion regulation skills and children’s respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and skin conductance level (SCL) reactivity to a social stressor. Several significant interactions of parent supportive reactions, non-supportive reactions, and child emotional reactivity emerged. Children were lowest in BPD features when parents were high in supportive reactions and/or low in non-supportive reactions and the child was low in emotional vulnerability (e.g., low negativity/lability, good emotion regulation skills, or low SCL reactivity to stress). These findings suggest that specific emotion socialization factors in interaction with children’s emotional reactivity may predict risk for BPD features in preadolescence. Future research is needed to replicate these findings and examine whether this interaction prospectively predicts trajectories of BPD features.


Borderline personality disorder Emotion regulation Emotion socialization Respiratory sinus arrhythmia Skin conductance level 



We are grateful to the families who generously participated in this study. We would like to acknowledge Rosalyn Langhinrichsen-Rohling, B.A., Amherst College, Mindy Kim, B.A., Amherst College, and Sarah Mattison Buhl, M.A., Amherst College, for their important roles in collecting these data.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Statement of Human Rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research board (#16-012) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

All adult participants provided informed consent and all child participants provided assent to participate in this study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyAmherst CollegeAmherstUSA

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