Identification of mental states and interpersonal functioning in borderline personality disorder

Kathy R. Berenson, Cara Dochat, Christiana G. Martin, Xiao Yang, Eshkol Rafaeli, Geraldine Downey

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27 Scopus citations


Atypical identification of mental states in the self and others has been proposed to underlie interpersonal difficulties in borderline personality disorder (BPD), yet no previous empirical research has directly examined associations between these constructs. We examine 3 mental state identification measures and their associations with experience-sampling measures of interpersonal functioning in participants with BPD relative to a healthy comparison (HC) group. We also included a clinical comparison group diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder (APD) to test the specificity of this constellation of difficulties to BPD. When categorizing blended emotional expressions, the BPD group identified anger at a lower threshold than did the HC and APD groups, but no group differences emerged in the threshold for identifying happiness. These results are consistent with enhanced social threat identification and not general negativity biases in BPD. The Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) showed no group differences in general mental state identification abilities. Alexithymia scores were higher in both BPD and APD relative to the HC group, and difficulty identifying one's own emotions was higher in BPD compared to APD and HC. Within the BPD group, lower RMET scores were associated with lower anger identification thresholds and higher alexithymia scores. Moreover, lower anger identification thresholds, lower RMET scores, and higher alexithymia scores were all associated with greater levels of interpersonal difficulties in daily life. Research linking measures of mental state identification with experiencesampling measures of interpersonal functioning can help clarify the role of mental state identification in BPD symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-181
Number of pages10
JournalPersonality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Psychological Association.


  • Alexithymia
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Experience sampling


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