Background: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is partly characterized by chronic instability in interpersonal relationships, which exacerbates other symptom dimensions of the disorder and can interfere with treatment engagement. Facial emotion recognition paradigms have been used to investigate the bases of interpersonal impairments in BPD, yielding mixed results. We sought to clarify and extend past findings by using the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), a measure of the capacity to discriminate the mental state of others from expressions in the eye region of the face.
Method: Thirty individuals diagnosed with BPD were compared to 25 healthy controls (HCs) on RMET performance. Participants were also assessed for depression severity, emotional state at the time of assessment, history of childhood abuse, and other Axis I and personality disorders (PDs).
Results: The BPD group performed significantly better than the HC group on the RMET, particularly for the Total Score and Neutral emotional valences. Effect sizes were in the large range for the Total Score and for Neutral RMET performance. The results could not be accounted for by demographics, co-occurring Axis I or II conditions, medication status, abuse history, or emotional state. However, depression severity partially mediated the relationship between RMET and BPD status.
Conclusions: Mental state discrimination based on the eye region of the face is enhanced in BPD. An enhanced sensitivity to the mental states of others may be a basis for the social impairments in BPD.