Emotional Lability and Affective Synchrony in Borderline Personality Disorder

Michelle Schoenleber, Christopher R. Berghoff, Matthew T. Tull, David DiLillo, Terri Messman-Moore, Kim L. Gratz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Extant research on emotional lability in borderline personality disorder (BPD) has focused almost exclusively on lability of individual emotions or emotion types, with limited research considering how different types of emotions shift together over time. Thus, this study examined the temporal dynamics of emotion in BPD at the level of both individual emotions (i.e., self-conscious emotions [SCE], anger, and anxiety) and mixed emotions (i.e., synchrony between emotions). One hundred forty-four women from the community completed a diagnostic interview and laboratory study involving 5 emotion induction tasks (each of which was preceded and followed by a 5-min resting period or neutral task). State ratings of SCE, anger, and anxiety were provided at 14 time points (before and after each laboratory task and resting period). Hierarchical linear modeling results indicate that women with BPD reported greater mean levels of SCE and Anxiety (but not Anger), and greater lability of Anxiety. Women with BPD also exhibited greater variability in lability of all 3 emotions (suggestive of within-group differences in the relevance of lability to BPD). Results also revealed synchrony (i.e., positive relations) between each possible pair of emotions, regardless of BPD status. Follow-up regression analyses suggest the importance of accounting for lability when examining the role of synchrony in BPD, as the relation of SCE-Anger synchrony to BPD symptom severity was moderated by Anger and SCE lability. Specifically, synchronous changes in SCE and Anger were associated with greater BPD symptom severity when large shifts in SCE were paired with minor shifts in Anger.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-220
Number of pages10
JournalPersonality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • affective synchrony
  • anger
  • borderline personality disorder
  • emotional lability
  • self-conscious emotion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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