Emotional hyperreactivity in response to childhood abuse by primary caregivers in patients with borderline personality disorder

J. Lobbestael*, A. Arntz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: One of the core postulated features of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is extreme emotional reactivity to a wide array of evocative stimuli. Findings from previous experimental research however are mixed, and some theories suggest specificity of hyper emotional responses, as being related to abuse, rejection and abandonment only. OBJECTIVE: The current experiment examines the specificity of emotional hyperreactivity in BPD. METHOD: The impact of four film clips (BPD-specific: childhood abuse by primary caregivers; BPD-nonspecific: peer bullying; positive; and neutral) on self-reported emotional affect was assessed in three female groups; BPD-patients (n = 24), cluster C personality disorder patients (n = 17) and non-patient controls (n = 23). RESULTS: Results showed that compared to the neutral film clip, BPD-patients reacted with more overall negative affect following the childhood abuse clip, and with more anger following the peer bullying clip than the two other groups. LIMITATIONS: The current study was restricted to assessment of the impact of evocative stimuli on self-reported emotions, and the order in which the film clips were presented to the participants was fixed. CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that BPD-patients only react generally excessively emotional to stimuli related to childhood abuse by primary caregivers, and with excessive anger to peer-bullying stimuli. These findings are thus not in line with the core idea of general emotional hyperreactvity in BPD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-132
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

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