Physiological arousal, distress tolerance, and social problem-solving deficits among adolescent self-injurers

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008 Feb;76(1):28-38. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.76.1.28.


It has been suggested that people engage in nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) because they (a) experience heightened physiological arousal following stressful events and use NSSI to regulate experienced distress and (b) have deficits in their social problem-solving skills that interfere with the performance of more adaptive social responses. However, objective physiological and behavioral data supporting this model are lacking. The authors compared adolescent self-injurers (n = 62) with noninjurers (n = 30) and found that self-injurers showed higher physiological reactivity (skin conductance) during a distressing task, a poorer ability to tolerate this distress, and deficits in several social problem-solving abilities. These findings highlight the importance of attending to increased arousal, distress tolerance, and problem-solving skills in the assessment and treatment of NSSI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Child
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Personality Assessment
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / diagnosis
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / physiopathology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Social Behavior*