Hypersensitivity or hyperreactivity? An experimental investigation in Borderline Personality Disorder

Roberta Bortolla, Marco Cavicchioli, Joaquim Soler Rivaldi, Juan Carlos Pascual Mateos, Paul F. M. J. Verschure, Cesare Maffei


Objective: Starting from the controversial results showed by empirical research on Linehan’s Biosocial model of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), this study aims to empirically evaluate Linehan’s conceptualization of emotional hypersensitivity and hyperreactivity, as well as to investigate the role of pre-existing emotional states in BPD altered physiological responsivity.

Methods: We asked 24 participants (BPD = 12; Healthy Controls = 12) to complete a self-reported questionnaire (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule) in order to assess their pre-task affective state. Subsequently, 36 emotional pictures from four valence categories (i.e. erotic, negative, positive, neutral) were administered while assessing participants self-reported and electrodermal responses.

Results: BPD patients showed higher levels of pre-task negative affectivity as well as an enhanced physiological response to neutral stimuli. No main BPD group effect was found for the physiological data. Moreover, pre-task negative affectivity levels were exclusively related to physiological responses among BPD subjects.

Discussion: Our findings supported the hypersensitivity hypothesis operationalized as an enhanced responsiveness to non-emotional cues. Hyperreactivity assumption was not supported. Conversely, our study revealed heightened physiological responses in relation to pre-existent negative emotional states in BPD. We discussed our results in the context of the putative pathological processes underlying BPD.


Borderline Personality Disorder; Biosocial model; Hyperreactivity; Hypersensitivity; Negative affectivity; Physiology.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.6092/2282-1619/mjcp-2297


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