Benson, Kathryn Taylor (2017-08). Toward the Identification and Refinement of a Behavioral Indicator of Identity Coherence. Master's Thesis. Thesis uri icon


  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a devastating mental illness, occurring at a rate of 1-5% within the general community and 15-20% of those already seeking treatment (i.e., clinical samples). A complex disorder, BPD is described as a kind of pervasive dysregulation, manifest as instability of affect, behavior, cognition, and identity. The dysregulated identity component includes a broad array of indicators but centrally regards a poorly developed self-schema--a conceptual frame of reference lacking sufficient structural integrity to support the consistent and independent experience of one's self. Historically, BPD has been considered difficult to diagnose, and current forms of assessment rely exclusively on variants of self report. Such procedures are problematic insofar as the underlying construct--problematic identity-- suggests inherent difficulties in first-person accounts. Despite the variety of experimental indicators targeting dysregulation of affect and behavior, as well as interpersonal functioning (e.g, Ekman facial emotion recognition task, interpersonal trust tasks, monetary delay tasks and go/no-go tasks), to date, no experimental indicator for the dysregulated identity component has been identified. Broadly, the current project aimed to establish and refine a behavioral indicator of the coherence of personality structure, utilizing a cognitive paradigm that taps the self-system--the Self-Reference Effect (SRE). While the SRE is listed in RDoC material for its potential utility as a paradigm for the measure of self-perception as a social process, at this point there are limited data to suggest how it might be useful. Given the 40 years of results indicating that the self can serve an active and powerful role in processing personal data, the current investigation piloted the potential utility of the Self-Referent Effect in identifying identity dysregulation. Problematical Identity was measured by the identity subscale of the Borderline Features Scale of the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI). Two cut points were made along this dimensional indicator, identifying a normative group, an elevated group--considered informative of borderline personality symptomatology, and an exploratory group--self-reporting as markedly low on problematical identity functioning. Word recall and response time were investigated across the three groups and preliminary findings suggested a pattern of enhanced performance for the normative identity group, who appeared to demonstrate a stronger mnemonic effect from the use of their self as an encoding strategy, relative to the two groups self-reporting indicators of problematical functioning. For the two problematical identity functioning groups, the use of the self does not appear to be as effective of a mnemonic device. These initial results provided support for the use of this task and suggest following up on the design is likely warranted.

publication date

  • August 2017