Attentional mechanisms of borderline personality disorder

Michael I. Posner, Mary K. Rothbart, Nathalie Vizueta, Kenneth N. Levy, David E. Evans, Kathleen M. Thomas, John F. Clarkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

226 Scopus citations


We consider whether disruption of a specific neural circuit related to self-regulation is an underlying biological deficit in borderline personality disorder (BPD). Because patients with BPD exhibit a poor ability to regulate negative affect, we hypothesized that brain mechanisms thought to be involved in such self-regulation would function abnormally even in situations that seem remote from the symptoms exhibited by these patients. To test this idea, we compared the efficiency of attentional networks in BPD patients with controls who were matched to the patients in having very low self-reported effortful control and very high negative emotionality and controls who were average in these two temperamental dimensions. We found that the patients exhibited significantly greater difficulty in their ability to resolve conflict among stimulus dimensions in a purely cognitive task than did average controls but displayed no deficit in overall reaction time, errors, or other attentional networks. The temperamentally matched group did not differ significantly from either group. A significant correlation was found between measures of the ability to control conflict in the reaction-time task and self-reported effortful control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16366-16370
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
StatePublished - Dec 10 2002
Externally publishedYes


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