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Social networks among people with borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Monash Warwick Alliance Accelerator Fund – March 2018 Round

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a disorder which impacts how a person interacts with others. The condition is characterised by impairment in intimacy (conflicted relationships, difficulty trusting others, abandonment fears, patterns of over involvement/withdrawal as well as idealisation/devaluation of relationships) and/or empathy (limited ability to recognise others’ needs and feelings, and sensitivity to real or imagined criticism) (Sanislow et al., 2002).

Professor Jacob Hohwy and Dr John Michael will develop and test a novel theoretical approach to understanding, and potentially treating, the disturbances in interpersonal functioning that are characteristic of BPD. By uniting their complementary skill sets the team can use MWA Accelerator funding to conduct a large-scale collaborative project with a high potential to generate social benefit and critically impact interdisciplinary research at the crossroads of philosophy, psychology and psychiatry.

The core of this theoretical approach is the hypothesis that those characteristic symptoms may be traced back to a disruption of the sense of commitment to joint actions and to relationships. The study will investigate whether individuals with BPD have difficulties gauging the level of commitment that others consider appropriate or reasonable, leading them to form unrealistic expectations which frequently become disappointed and/or which others perceive as burdensome. To test and refine the hypothesis, the project will implement lab-based experiments and utilise social network analysis to map the network structures of the symptoms of BPD and the properties of the social networks that these individuals form. This will make it possible to probe and refine the ecological validity (the degree to which the behaviours observed and recorded in a study reflect the behaviours that actually occur in natural settings) of the theoretical model, develop tools for measuring the structure and stability of social networks among individuals with BPD and gain valuable insights into the philosophical and ethical implications of the disorder.

Looking to the future, the research team plan to use this project as springboard to unite the expertise of our two institutions and develop further projects into BPD, with a particular view to provide unique educational opportunities for students who are motivated to develop an interdisciplinary skill set and international network. Working together the team are aiming to develop new insights and ecologically valid tools for diagnosing and treating BPD, and for assessing treatment techniques.

Skodol, A. E., Gunderson, J. G., McGlashan, T. H., Dyck, I. R., Stout, R. L., Bender, D. S., ... & Sanislow, C. A. (2002). Functional impairment in patients with schizotypal, borderline, avoidant, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(2), 276-283.

Principal Applicants: