Jun 302013
Dr. Anthony C. Ruocco

Dr. Anthony C. Ruocco

Accurate diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) has apparently inched closer to reality.  BPD is a complicated condition to diagnose as many of it’s symptoms also mimic other disorders.  Dr. Anthony Ruocco, a clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, led a study that has identified a characteristic that may be unique to borderline personality disorder: a tendency to misinterpret emotions expressed by the face.  This characteristic has not been observed in schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

BPD sufferers “have difficulty processing facial emotions and will see a negative emotion on a neutral face,” said Dr. Ruocco.  Inaccuracies in recognizing anger, sadness, fear and disgust were also observed in the study.

The study did not conclude whether these misperceptions actually trigger the outbursts so common among people with borderline personality disorder.

People with borderline personality disorder have trouble regulating their emotions. They tend to act impulsively, lash out in anger and have stormy relationships. Many fear abandonment, complain of feeling empty and engage in bodily self-harm, such as cutting. High rates of suicide also are associated with the condition.

Four Facial ExpressionsNot only did subjects with borderline personality disorder misread facial emotions, the studies showed, but they also took more time to interpret facial emotions than others. And when they perceived anger, it induced stronger reactions than in healthy control subjects, Ruocco’s team found.

A smaller study conducted by Ruocco’s team, which is not yet published, found that individuals with borderline personality disorder also reported mild expressions of sadness as more intensely sad than others do. This was true even when the researchers accounted for depression.

About 6 percent of adults in the United States have borderline personality disorder, according to the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder, which also estimates that 20 percent of all psychiatric hospital admissions and 10 percent of outpatient treatment involve the condition.