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Borderline personality disorder is associated with a loss of empathy

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized extreme changes in mood, impulsive and self-destructive behavior, and difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships1,2,3. A new study by Haas and Miller, suggests a link between the severity of BDP and a loss of empathy4. Eighty-four non-clinical volunteers completed the Five-Factor Borderline Inventory5 (a trait-based BPD assessment) and functional MRI imaging (fMRI, an image-based measurement of brain activity through changes in blood flow). During fMRI, volunteers performed an emotional perspective-taking task to evoke empathy6. A significant correlation was found between higher BPD trait scores and hypo-activity in brain regions associated with cognitive empathy (see figure)4. Therefore, defects in empathic processing may contribute to BPD pathology.

How empathy is affected in BPD is still unknown. Future studies combining in vivo neuroimaging with ex vivo proteomic profiling are needed to further our understanding of empathic processing and BPD.

For an interview with author Brian Haas, read this recent post from Science Daily.



1)       NIMH “What is borderline personality disorder?” http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml

2)       Mayo Clinic “Borderline personality disorder” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/basics/definition/con-20023204

3)       Mental Health America “Personality Disorder” http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/personality-disorder

4)       Haas and Miller “Borderline Personality Traits and Brain Activity During Emotional Perspective Taking.” Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. July 13, 2015.

5)       Mullins-Sweatt et al.Five-factor measure of borderline personality traits.” Journal of Personality Assessment. April 10, 2012.

6)       Derntl et al.Multidimensional assessment of empathic abilities: Neural correlates and gender differences.” Psychoneuroendocrinology. October 10, 2009.



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