Date of Award

8-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Jenny Macfie

Committee Members

Deborah P. Welsh, Kristina C. Gordon, Elizabeth I. Johnson

Abstract

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a severe psychological disorder marked by emotional dysregulation, unstable relationships, impulsivity, and anger/hostility. Rejection sensitivity is a schema that affects how a person perceives and responds to potential social rejection. Highly rejection sensitive individuals tend to respond to perceived rejection with hostility. Individuals with BPD are more rejection sensitive than healthy comparisons, and both BPD and the schema of rejection sensitivity are thought to develop in the context of early invalidating and rejecting environments. Additionally, parental borderline features and BPD diagnosis are predictive of borderline symptoms in their offspring. We measured rejection sensitivity, borderline features, and perception of rejection and changes in hostile affect after a lab-based social rejection task (Cyberball) in a sample of young adult college students, and rejection sensitivity and borderline features in the participants’ parents. Three different hypothesized latent regression models were tested. The best fitting model indicated that mothers’ rejection sensitivity predicted mothers’ borderline features and young adult offspring rejection sensitivity. This model also indicated that there are significant indirect pathways from young adult rejection sensitivity to their borderline features of affective instability and negative relationships, through increases in hostile affect after social rejection. This study introduces the intergenerational transmission of rejection sensitivity as a possible mechanism that may explain the relationship between parent and child borderline features. Additionally, results of this study suggest that reactive hostility in interpersonal situations, due to the schema of rejection sensitivity, may be one pathway through which the interaction of an early invalidating environment with temperamental vulnerabilities leads to borderline features in the context of the biosocial model.

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