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Pupillary and Affective Responses to Maternal Feedback and the Development of Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

NCJ Number
Development and Psychopathology Volume: 29 Issue: 3 Dated: 2017 Pages: 1089-1104
Lori N. Scott; Maureen Zalewski; Joseph E. Beeney; Neil P. Jones
Date Published
16 pages
This prospective study examined pupillary and affective responses to maternal feedback as predictors of borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptom development in adolescent girls over 18 months.
Etiological models propose that a biological vulnerability to emotional reactivity plays an important role in the development of borderline personality disorder (BPD); however, the physiological and phenomenological components of emotional reactivity that predict the course of BPD symptoms in adolescence are poorly understood. In the current study, 57 16-year-old girls completed a laboratory task in which they heard recorded clips of their own mothers making critical or praising statements about them, as well as neutral statements that did not pertain to them. Changes in girls' pupil dilation and subjective affect were assessed throughout the task. The results demonstrated that greater pupillary response to maternal criticism predicted increases in BPD symptoms over time. In addition, greater pupillary and positive affective responses to maternal praise were associated with higher BPD symptoms at age 16 and faster decreases in BPD symptoms over time, but only among girls who heard clips that were rated by independent observers as less praising. The results suggest that emotional reactivity can serve as either a risk or a protective factor depending on context, with differential effects of reactivity to criticism versus praise. (Publisher abstract modified)