The borderline empathy paradox: evidence and conceptual models for empathic enhancements in borderline personality disorder

J Pers Disord. 2013 Apr;27(2):172-95. doi: 10.1521/pedi.2013.27.2.172.


Empirical evidence and therapeutic interactions have suggested that individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may demonstrate enhancements in aspects of social-emotional cognition. To assess the empirical evidence for this phenomenon, and to comprehensively evaluate alternative hypotheses for its possible role in BPD etiology and symptoms, the authors systematically searched the literature for investigations of empathy in BPD and reviewed 28 studies assessing a range of empathic abilities. Considered together, these data demonstrated comparable levels of evidence for enhanced, preserved, and reduced empathic skills in individuals with BPD. Evidence for empathic enhancements is thus substantial but inconsistent across studies, being found mainly under more socially interactive experimental paradigms. Based on the results of the review and previous explanations for BPD symptoms, the authors propose a new model for explaining the borderline paradox: that a combination of increased attention to social stimuli and dysfunctional social information processing may account in part for the specific empathic enhancements and reduced overall social functioning in BPD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Emotional Intelligence / physiology*
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*