When I look into my baby's eyes . . . infant emotion recognition by mothers with borderline personality disorder

Infant Ment Health J. Jan-Feb 2014;35(1):21-32. doi: 10.1002/imhj.21426. Epub 2013 Dec 9.


Mothers with borderline personality disorder (BPD) have disturbed relationships with their infants, possibly associated with poor nonverbal cue perception. Individuals with BPD are poor at recognizing emotion in adults and tend to misattribute neutral (i.e., no emotion) as sad. This study extends previous research by examining how mothers with BPD perceive known (own) and unknown (control) infant stimuli depicting happy, sad, and neutral emotions. The sample consisted of 13 women diagnosed with BPD and 13 healthy control mothers. All participants completed clinical and parenting questionnaires and an infant emotion recognition task. Compared to control mothers, mothers with BPD were significantly poorer at infant emotion recognition overall, but especially neutral expressions which were misattributed most often as sad. Performance was not related to disturbed parenting but rather mothers' age and illness duration. Neither the BPD nor control mothers showed enhanced accuracy for emotional displays of their own verses unknown infant-face images. Although the sample size was small, this study provides evidence that mothers with BPD negatively misinterpret neutral images, which may impact sensitive responding to infant emotional cues. These findings have implications for clinical practice and the development of remediation programs targeting emotion-perception disturbances in mothers with BPD.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Child Abuse
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychological Tests
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult