Borderline Personality Disorder

“In a game of give and get,” the reporter emphasizes: “The brains of people with borderline personality disorder often don’t get it.”

The interactive game to which he is referring was developed at the Baylor University College of Medicine and uses money to evaluate levels of trust between the players, according to a recent article which also appeared in the online version of Science Daily.

Players are first hooked up to a functional MRI scanner, a specialized type of MRI imaging device. Then the first player, an “investor,” is given $20. If he gives it all to the other player, called a trustee, the money is tripled (presumably by the researchers). If he doesn’t, it isn’t. It is up to the trustee to decide how to split the “profits” if there are any. He can divide them equally or keep the lion’s share.

The game requires trust on the investor’s part that the $20 he hands over will net him $30 in return. The trustee must also be certain that the investor trusts him enough to hand over the full $20, otherwise neither player profits (the game doesn’t permit splitting the $20 bill).

Meanwhile, the MRI – using software called hyperscanning – takes pictures of the blood flow to the brain, notably the anterior insula, an area of the brain that registers emotional susceptibility (ES; a specific emotional trait of the human personality defined as the tendency to “experience feelings of discomfort, helplessness, inadequacy and vulnerability”). Baylor researchers define it simply as the area of the brain where “norms” are evaluated, and violations of same recorded.

The study involved 55 people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), and 55 normal people who were of the same age and educational status. In the latter group, the anterior insula showed increased blood flow both when investors handed over their money and when they recouped their profits.

In the brains of those with the disorder, blood flow increased only when investing, but not when getting profits back, leading this writer to conclude that people with BPD attach a lot of value to the money they hand out and very little to the money they receive in return. Since, in my experience, this is suspiciously similar to the behavior of the rich and powerful, I’m inclined to conclude that they are disproportionately afflicted with BPD. This includes movie stars behaving badly, both on and off camera, and top administration officials that are in charge of our government policy.

Study director Dr. Brooks King-Casas emphasized the importance of the study in identifying the biological signature of BPD, which indicates that BPD is actually a physical problem and not, as King-Casal emphasizes, “…just a matter of bad attitudes or a lack of will.”

Christy Weller, Psy.D., Couples Counseling Boulder. I bring a genuine curiosity, a kind appreciation of where you have been, and a non-judgmental stance so that you feel comfortable exploring your story and making sense of it. I tailor my work to each client and I’m trained in both short-term and long-term therapies.