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Am J Psychiatry. 1999 Oct;156(10):1550-6.

Affective responsiveness in borderline personality disorder: a psychophysiological approach.

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  • 1Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Technical University of Aachen, Germany.



The aim of the study was to investigate affective responses to emotional stimuli in subjects with borderline personality disorder.


Twenty-four female patients with borderline personality disorder and 27 normal female comparison subjects were examined. The test stimuli were a set of standardized photographic slides with pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant emotional valence. In addition to self-reports, emotional reactions to the slides were measured by heart rate, skin conductance, and startle response. Psychometric tests for various aspects of impulsiveness were also completed.


Neither self-report nor physiological data gave any evidence that the borderline patients showed more intense affective responses than did the normal subjects. The borderline subjects did not produce higher levels of startle amplitude, and while viewing unpleasant slides, they showed a startle potentiation effect that was largely similar to that of the comparison group. In fact, the borderline patients showed low electrodermal responses to all three stimulus categories, which points to physiological underarousal.


The results do not agree with the hypothesis that there is a fundamental, biologically based affective hyperresponsiveness in borderline personality disorder, as is suggested by current theories of affect dysregulation in the disorder. Autonomic underarousal may seriously interfere with a flexible adaptation to environmental stimuli.

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