Psychoanalysis Unit


Mentalisation based on external features of self and others

An experimental and neurobiological approach to probing the interpersonal phenotype of borderline personality disorder

PIs: Professor Patrick Luyten, Professor Benedicte Lowyck

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by pervasive difficulties with emotion regulation, impulse control and instability in relationships. Previous research has suggested that impairments in mentalizing - the capacity to understand the self and others in terms of mental states, which is typically acquired in attachment contexts (e.g. the relationship between parent and child) - is a core feature of BPD. The inability to envision one's own mind and that of others has been related to the key symptoms of BPD.

This study aims to increase our insight into the interpersonal pattern typical of BPD by focusing on the role of mentalizing based on external features of self and others - in particular, the ability to recognize emotions in facial expressions - in BPD patients and non-clinical controls. Congruent with the NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative, we are taking a multi-level, dimensional experimental approach that:

(a) differentiates between the different parameters involved in mentalizing with regard to self and others

(b) includes a priming approach, to activate the attachment system and

(c) investigates the underlying neurobiology involved in mentalizing based on external features, focusing on the role of oxytocin, a neuropeptide known to be involved in reward and attachment behavior as well as mentalizing.

Contact: p.luyten@ucl.ac.uk