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J Abnorm Psychol. 2012 May;121(2):477-83. doi: 10.1037/a0026753. Epub 2012 Jan 16.

Assessing emotion sensitivity in female offenders with borderline personality symptoms: results from a fear-potentiated startle paradigm.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


An instructed fear-conditioning paradigm was used to measure fear-potentiated startle (FPS) in a sample of 80 Caucasian, female offenders assessed using the Personality Assessment Inventory-Borderline Features Scale (Morey, 1991). As predicted, women with higher levels of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) symptoms showed significantly greater FPS than women with lower levels when required to focus attention on the threat-relevant dimension of the experimental stimuli. However, FPS was not greater for women with higher levels of BPD symptoms in the two conditions that required participants to direct attention away from the threat-relevant dimension. These results highlight the importance of attention for moderating the association between BPD symptoms and exaggerated responses to threat-relevant information and may, therefore, help to resolve the inconsistent evidence on emotional reactivity in BPD. Moreover, the potential importance of attentional factors in BPD may shed new light on prominent symptoms of the disorder and existing theoretical perspectives on BPD.

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