Behavioral and emotional responses to interpersonal stress: A comparison of adolescents engaged in non-suicidal self-injury to adolescent suicide attempters

Psychiatry Res. 2015 Aug 30;228(3):899-906. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.05.001. Epub 2015 May 9.


Prominent theoretical models and existing data implicate interpersonal factors in the development and maintenance of suicidal behavior and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). However, no known study has yet used computerized behavioral tasks to objectively assess responses to interpersonal conflict/collaboration among teens engaged in NSSI or having made a suicide attempt. The current study, therefore, compared interpersonal functioning indexed by the Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) task among three mutually exclusive groups, adolescents (ages 13-17): engaged in NSSI only without history of a suicide attempt (n=26); who made a suicide attempt without history of NSSI (n=26); and typically developing controls (n=26). Participants also completed the Interpersonal Sensitivity Measure to assess their general sensitivity to/awareness of others' behaviors and feelings. No significant between-group differences were found in PD task performance; however, compared to typically developing control participants and those who had made a suicide attempt, the NSSI group reported significantly more stress during the task. Additionally, NSSI participants rated themselves as more interpersonally sensitive compared to both attempters and typically developing controls. Given the lack of knowledge about whether these groups either differentially activate the same circuitry during stressful interpersonal interactions or instead rely on alternative, compensatory circuits, future work using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging is warranted.

Keywords: Interpersonal relations; Self-injurious behavior; Social stress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Emotional Intelligence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Reference Values
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires