Psychophysiological aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder reactivity to interpersonal stimuli: associations to components of childhood abuse

Roberta Bortolla, Gea Elena Spada, Marco Galli, Raffaele Visitini, Chiara Talè, Cesare Maffei


Background: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is mostly characterized by emotional dysregulation manifested in subjective, behavioral, and physiological terms. Although, a huge number of studies conducted on this topic, empirical findings remain mixed, leading researchers to hypothesize that some manifestations of the disorder could be expressed in specific situations. Accordingly, we aimed to investigate components of emotional dysregulation in response to socio-relational clips in BPD by collecting self-reported and physiological data.

Methods: An emotional elicitation task was administered to 28 BPD patients and 28 healthy controls (HCs). The task consisted of 24 clips with explicit interpersonal contents categorized into positive, negative, erotic, and neutral stimuli. Self-reported emotional intensity elicited by each clip and ECG indexes were recorded during the task.

Results: Patients reported higher intensity of negative emotions in response to different relational contents compared to HCs. Moreover, we found an increase in HRV in BPD during the administration of the relational clips. Eventually, significant associations between scores of positive emotions and dimensions of emotional abuse and neglect were reported.

Conclusions: To summarize, our results support difficulties in emotional experience in BPD manifested both in subjective and physiological terms. Patients report a negative bias in the evaluation of relational contents, which is more pronounced when high scores of childhood abuse are taken into account. Eventually, relational contents engage a complex physiological response that could express a condition of physiological immobilization in response to social cues.


Borderline personality disorder; Interpersonal functioning; Emotion dysregulation; Childhood abuse; Heart rate variability.

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