A Novel Approach to Simultaneously Assess Relations Between Theory of Mind and Person Perception: Validation with an Inpatient Sample of Adolescents with Borderline Personality Disorder



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Recent conceptualizations of personality disorders in general, and borderline personality disorder specifically, focus on dysfunction in self and other processing. These processes are best understood under the umbrella of social cognition, which refers to the cognitive processes involved in perceiving, attending to, remembering, thinking about, and making sense of the self and others. Research has found impairments in two particular domains of social cognition: theory of mind and person perception. Person perception is defined as making on-line, rapid judgements about people’s personality and disposition and theory of mind is defined as attributing mental states to oneself and others. One setback of previous studies of social-cognition in borderline personality disorder is that they have typically relied on single-task measures of social cognition, which have failed to acknowledge the multi-dimensional nature of this construct. Additionally, the few studies that have examined multiple social-cognitive modalities, have used separate measures. The use of multiple measures has the potential of obscuring true group differences with task- or stimuli-based differences, especially if they have differential reliabilities and/or validities. Therefore, for the current study, a novel task was adapted from existing, well-validated measures of theory of mind (Movie Assessment for Social Cognition) and person perception (the Interpersonal Grid) such that both modalities were being evaluated using the same stimuli. The novel task was then used to (a) evaluate the relations between theory of mind and person perception and (b) using categorical and dimensional approaches, evaluate whether impairments in person perception and theory of mind were present in relation to borderline personality disorder. Specifically, 100 adolescents were recruited from an inpatient unit and completed the novel task along with interview-based diagnostic measures and self-report measures of borderline personality features. While there were no findings of relations between theory of mind and person perception and between both of these constructs and borderline personality disorder, further analyses revealed that among borderline adolescents, there was a unique pattern of relations between biased perceptions of Agency and theory of mind impairments. Findings were discussed in relation to our current understanding of these social-cognitive processes in borderline personality disorder.



Theory of mind, Person Perception