Negative bias in fast emotion discrimination in borderline personality disorder

M Dyck, U Habel, J Slodczyk, J Schlummer, V Backes, F Schneider, M Reske
Psychological Medicine 2009, 39 (5): 855-64

BACKGROUND: The ability to decode emotional information from facial expressions is crucial for successful social interaction. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by serious problems in interpersonal relationships and emotional functioning. Empirical research on facial emotion recognition in BPD has been sparsely published and results are inconsistent. To specify emotion recognition deficits in BPD more closely, the present study implemented two emotion recognition tasks differing in response format.

METHOD: Nineteen patients with BPD and 19 healthy subjects were asked to evaluate the emotional content of visually presented stimuli (emotional and neutral faces). The first task, the Fear Anger Neutral (FAN) Test, required a rapid discrimination between negative or neutral facial expressions whereas in the second task, the Emotion Recognition (ER) Test, a precise decision regarding default emotions (sadness, happiness, anger, fear and neutral) had to be achieved without a time limit.

RESULTS: In comparison to healthy subjects, BPD patients showed a deficit in emotion recognition only in the fast discrimination of negative and neutral facial expressions (FAN Test). Consistent with earlier findings, patients demonstrated a negative bias in the evaluation of neutral facial expressions. When processing time was unlimited (ER Test), BPD patients performed as well as healthy subjects in the recognition of specific emotions. In addition, an association between performance in the fast discrimination task (FAN Test) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) co-morbidity was indicated.

CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest a selective deficit of BPD patients in rapid and direct discrimination of negative and neutral emotional expressions that may underlie difficulties in social interactions.

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