Facial Emotion Recognition Abilities in Individuals with Characteristics of Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders

Open Access
Medved, Kevin Gregory
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Kenneth Levy, Thesis Supervisor
  • Jeff M Love, Honors Advisor
  • borderline personality disorder
  • narcissistic personality disorder
  • emotion recognition
  • mental state decoding
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a chronic and debilitating disorder characterized by chaotic interpersonal relationships, poor impulse control, angry outbursts, and frequent self-injurious or suicidal behavior (Skodol et al., 2002). BPD has also been associated with social cognitive deficits (Levy et al., 2006a; Levy, 2005) that are thought to contribute to difficulties regulating emotions (Herpertz et al., 1997). Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, preoccupation with fantasies of an idealized self, exploitation of others for personal gain, a need for excessive admiration, and haughty or arrogant behavior (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). NPD has also been associated with social cognitive deficits (Levy, 2012; Meyer, Levy, & Scala, 2012), particularly with regard to emotional empathy (Ritter et al., 2011) and facial emotion recognition abilities (Marissen, Deen, & Franken, 2012). BPD is highly comorbid with NPD, with approximately 39% of BPD patients also meeting DSM-IV criteria for NPD (Grant et al., 2008). However, little is known about the combined effect of comorbid BPD and NPD on social cognition. Given that social cognitive deficits have been observed in both disorders, it is suspected that these deficits may be exacerbated when both BPD and NPD are present. The present study compared the mental state decoding abilities of individuals with traits of both BPD and pathological narcissism (high-BPD-NPD) versus those who only have traits of BPD (high-BPD) or NPD (high-NPD), using the revised Reading the Mind in the Eyes task (RME; Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Hill, Raste, & Plumb, 2001), the McLean Screening Instrument for Borderline Personality Disorder (MSI-BPD; Zanarini et al., 2003), and the Pathological Narcissism Inventory (PNI; Pincus et al., 2009). Compared to participants in the high-BPD group, those in the high-BPD-NPD group had significantly lower accuracy on the RME task for neutral faces but not positive or negative faces. This finding suggests that deficits in mental state decoding abilities may be particularly pronounced for individuals who have high levels of NPD and BPD traits when interpreting ambiguous/neutral social cues. Future research should be directed at examining these processes in clinical populations of individuals with BPD and NPD to confirm the generalizability of these findings.