Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Joseph W. Ditre


Borderline Personality Disorder, Non-Suicidal Self-Injury, Sensory Processing

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is characterized by a pattern of instability in self-image, interpersonal relationships, emotional regulation, and impulsivity that significantly impacts functioning in everyday life. Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is a hallmark symptom of BPD that serves to regulate affective instability and relieve inner aversive tension. Experimental pain modalities are commonly employed to assess sensory perception in the context of BPD. Although the experience of self-inflicted pain during NSSI is thought to contribute to emotional regulation, individuals with BPD tend to exhibit reduced experimental pain sensitivity when compared to healthy controls. Thus, experimental pain reactivity may not adequately reflect mechanisms relevant to NSSI behaviors in BPD. Tactile sensory processing paradigms, which are believed to reflect cortical mechanisms underlying sensory perception, may be better suited to clarify the relationship between NSSI behaviors and sensory processing within BPD. The goal of the present study was to conduct the first pilot test of vibrotactile psychophysical measurement as a method of assessing tactile sensory processing among individuals with BPD symptoms that engage in NSSI. Primary outcomes included indices of feasibility/tolerability and tactile sensory processing. Fifteen participants were recruited for this pilot study (n = 6 in the BPD symptom condition, and n = 9 healthy controls). Results yielded evidence of feasibility (83.3% retention rate) and tolerability (no reported difficulties). Exploratory analyses further indicated that participants with BPD symptoms (vs. healthy controls) evinced faster choice than simple reaction time scores. No statistically significant differences were observed across the other paired sensory tasks. Collectively, these findings suggest that the vibrotactile psychophysical task paradigm is feasible, tolerable, and may have utility in the study of somatosensation among individuals with BPD symptoms.


Open Access



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