BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER TRAITS AND EMPATHY: THE MODERATING ROLE OF EMOTION REGULATION
Research on empathic abilities in individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) offers mixed findings. Studies have demonstrated that individuals with BPD, in comparison to healthy controls, are better at detecting emotions in others (i.e., empathic accuracy) but worse at regulating their affective reactions to others’ emotions (i.e., personal distress). However, the majority of findings are inconclusive. Since emotion regulation plays a crucial role in empathic processes, the present study explored whether emotion regulation strategy use moderates the relationship between BPD trait severity and empathy. All participants answered a questionnaire assessing BPD trait severity. Before watching a distressing video, 122 participants were randomized to either an expressive suppression, cognitive reappraisal, or uninstructed control condition. Instructions to either suppress or reappraise emotions were presented immediately before the video. The video entailed a mock text conversation between a student and a crisis counselor involving grief and suicide. Before and after the video, participants completed two measures of empathy: a measure of personal distress followed by an empathic accuracy task. Moderation analyses indicated that, for individuals with high BPD traits, reappraisal led to greater personal distress after the video compared to suppression. Reappraisal also led to higher empathic accuracy, for those with high BPD traits, compared to the control condition. Collectively, these findings highlight the importance of exploring emotion regulation strategies as moderating factors in the relationship between BPD traits and empathy. These results also suggest that cognitive reappraisal may be a poor strategy to use for individuals with more BPD traits compared to suppression when it comes to reducing distress, but an adaptive strategy when it comes to increasing empathic accuracy.
NotesDegree Awarded: M.A. Psychology. American University
Degree grantorAmerican University. Department of Psychology