Category: Personality Disorders


The Influence of Borderline Personality Symptoms on Recognition of Romantic Partner Emotions in Daily Life

Friday, November 17
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom A, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Borderline Personality Disorder | Couples / Close Relationships | Emotion
Presentation Type: Symposium

Recent research has explored the ability of individuals with BPD to accurately recognize the emotional states of others. The vast majority of this work has used laboratory-based stimuli consisting of images of faces depicting various emotions, and results from these studies have been mixed: Some evidence suggests emotion recognition impairments exist among individuals with BPD, indicated by higher attribution of anger to neutral faces or deficits in accuracy of recognizing emotions. Other evidence suggests heightened emotion recognition, as shown in findings indicating that individuals with BPD are faster at identifying emotions. Additional research has sought to employing videos or other more complex stimuli, with evidence accumulating for deficits in social cognition among individuals with BPD. It remains to be seen, however, if these laboratory-based studies are ecologically valid. Thus, the present study sought to determine how BPD symptoms might affect emotion recognition in the real-world among couples who reported on their own, and estimations of their partners’, daily emotional states.

            The present study recruited 168 participants (84 cohabitating couples) from the community. Participants completed a three-week daily diary that assessed their own mood state, as well as their estimates of their partner’s mood. From these daily ratings, each participants’ sensitivity and specificity for their partners’ negative and positive emotions were calculated. At baseline, participants completed a measure of BPD symptoms.

            Results show that higher BPD symptoms were related to poorer specificity when estimating partner’s negative emotional states, indicating that higher BPD symptoms increased the likelihood of saying a partner experienced a given negative emotion when the partner did not endorse experiencing that emotion. In the case of anger and fatigue, higher sensitivity occurred along with this lower specificity—that is, partner anger and fatigue was more often correctly seen by individuals with higher BPD symptoms—suggesting that higher BPD symptoms may lower the threshold for perceiving some partner emotions leading to more false positives but fewer misses. These findings are the first to examine the relation between BPD symptoms and emotion recognition patterns in the real world, and could inform treatments targeting interpersonal functioning by reoperationalizing social cognition “deficits” as individual threshold differences that come with both interpersonal advantages and disadvantages.

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