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Borderline personality disorder and self -complexity: Application of Linville's self-complexity--affective-extremity hypothesis

Purdue University
Publication Date
  • Psychology
  • Clinical|Psychology
  • Personality
  • Medicine
  • Psychology


The borderline personality disorder literature discusses two primary features, a lack of a stable sense of self and variable affective reactions. The current paper provided a brief overview of borderline personality disorder, a description of an area of research within social psychology theory (the self-complexity-affective extremity hypothesis; Linville, 1985), and the suggestion that this model could be applied to therapeutic work with borderline personality disorder individuals. The present study employed two methods of evaluating self-complexity, the H-statistic endorsed by Linville and the OVERLAP measure proposed by Rafaeli-Mor and Gotlib (1996), included two groups of individuals receiving DSM-IV-based personality disorder diagnoses, and evaluated positive and negative mood ratings across a two-week interval. Primary predictions included that participants receiving borderline personality disorder diagnoses, as compared to those receiving other personality disorder diagnoses, would be significantly less differentiated (lower self-complexity) and would demonstrate significantly higher affective variability. As predicted, participants receiving borderline personality disorder diagnoses received significantly lower self-complexity scores than did participants with other forms of personality disorder diagnoses. However, there was minimal support for the notion that more extreme affective variability would characterize participants in the Borderline group. Borderlines were significantly more variable in their ratings of negative moods only. As expected, Borderlines produced significantly higher scores on the Borderline Syndrome Index (BSI; Conte, Plutchik, Karasu, & Jerrett, 1980) than controls. Borderlines also used significantly fewer trait-role adjectives to describe themselves as compared to controls, and were significantly more likely to receive a self-complexity classification of low, rather than high, self-complexity. Indeed, 70% of the participants in the Borderline group, as compared to 30% of the participants in the control group, described themselves as having low self-complexity. Finally, a comparison of the H-statistic with the OVERLAP measure suggests that the former was better in contrasting the self-complexity of individuals with differing forms of personality disorders. ^

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