Category: Personality Disorders


Emotional Reactivity and Regulation Among Younger and Older Adults With BPD Features

Saturday, November 18
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM
Location: Indigo Ballroom B, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Aging / Older Adults | Borderline Personality Disorder | Emotion Regulation
Presentation Type: Symposium

Although most of the research on BPD focuses on younger adults (e.g., Shea et al., 2009), older adults may have lower rates of BPD (Zanarini et al., 2012). This may be, in part, due to the reduced emotional reactivity (Levenson et al., 1991) and improved emotion regulation (Urry & Gross, 2010) evident in older vs. younger adults. Given these age-related changes in emotional functioning, it is also possible that patterns of emotional reactivity in BPD vary across age groups. Bridging these gaps in extant research, the primary aim of this study was to examine age-related differences in BPD features and emotion regulation difficulties. A secondary aim was to examine whether age moderated the influence of BPD features on emotional reactivity.

Participants [young (n=49, Mage=19.89) and older (n=45, Mage=66.56) adults] completed questionnaires of BPD features (Morey, 1991) and difficulties in emotion regulation (Gratz & Roemer, 2004). In the lab, participants watched two baseline clips and four negative induction clips. Subjective emotional reactivity (Watson et al., 1999) and heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of parasympathetic activity (Appelhans & Luecken, 2006), were assessed.

Young adults reported greater BPD features overall and across all symptom domains, ts=2.27-5.87, ps<.05, and greater emotion regulation difficulties, t(93)=3.14, p<.05, than older adults. REgression analyses revealed an indirect effect of age through emotion regulation difficulties on BPD features (B=-4.92, SE=1.73; CI=-8.60, -1.76); emotion regulation difficulties mediated the relationship between age group and BPD features. With regard to reactivity to the mood induction, repeated measures ANOVA revealed effects of time, time x BPD, and BPD x age, Fs=2.86-6.12, ps<.05. Among those with higher BPD features, older adults reported greater negative emotion reactivity to the negative clips, ps<.05. No effects emerged for HRV, ps>.05.

Our findings replicate past findings that older adults report fewer BPD features and less emotion regulation difficulties. However, those older adults with remaining BPD features exhibit greater emotional reactivity. 

Lindsey Conkey

University of Massachusetts Amherst


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Emotional Reactivity and Regulation Among Younger and Older Adults With BPD Features

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