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Clinical Psychologist (2016)

The specificity of the biosocial model to borderline traits


Duncan GILL,1 Wayne WARBURTON1 and Ken BEATH2
Departments of 1Psychology and 2Statistics, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Key words Abstract


biosocial model, borderline personality disorder,
childhood emotional vulnerability, chronic worry, Background: A number of theories have been proposed to account for the
emotion dysregulation. development of borderline personality disorder (BPD). The biosocial model
considers emotional dysregulation to be central to the disorder, caused in turn
Correspondence by an emotionally vulnerable child being raised in an invalidating environ-
Duncan Gill, Department of Psychology, ment. This aetiological model is potentially too broad, as many of these con-
Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales
structs may be equally important to other mental health conditions, making
2109, Australia.
Email: Duncan.Gill@students.mq.edu.au
the model non-specific to BPD.
Method: We sought to contrast the explanatory value of the constructs iden-
Received 22 May 2015; accepted 19 tified by the biosocial model of BPD to an alternate form of psychopathology
August 2016. (chronic worry), using a nonclinical sample (N = 271), via the completion of
self-report questionnaires.
doi:10.1111/cp.12104
Results: Childhood emotional vulnerability had a similar relationship to
chronic worry as to borderline traits, with emotional dysregulation playing an
important role in both disorders. Contrary to the biosocial model0 s predic-
tions, the interaction effects between the childhood antecedents were not
found to play an important role in either psychopathology.
Conclusion: The lack of an interaction effect between invalidating parenting
and emotional vulnerability suggests that this aspect of the biosocial model
may not be a strong predictor of BPD. Key elements of the biosocial model
may have utility as more generic predictors of psychopathology.

Key Points Introduction


1 Contrary to the biosocial model, emotional dysregu- Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a chronic condi-
lation does not fully mediate the relationship tion featuring difficulties with interpersonal functioning,
between borderline traits and the childhood antece- poor affect regulation, impulsivity, identity formation
dents of the disorder. issues and suicidal behaviour (American Psychiatric
2 The putatively critical interaction between child- Association, 2013). Individuals with the condition face
hood emotional vulnerability and invalidating par- long-term difficulties in psychosocial functioning
enting was not found to be of importance, whilst (Zanarini, Frankenburg, Reich, & Fitzmaurice, 2010),
emotional vulnerability was found to be of equal rel- with a significant proportion of sufferers completing sui-
evance to the development of chronic worry. cide (Yoshida et al., 2006).
3 The biosocial model may be better considered a Poor parenting has been found to be a risk factor for
generic template for the development of psycho- BPD across a number of studies (e.g., Johnson, Cohen,
pathologies that involve emotional dysregulation, Chen, Kasen, & Brook, 2006; Keinänen, Johnson,
than being specific to borderline traits. Richards, & Courtney, 2012). This has led to a number
of theorists incorporating poor parenting into aetiological
models of the disorder (e.g., Baird, Veague, & Rabbitt,
Funding: None. 2005; Fonagy & Bateman, 2008; Ryle, 1997), perhaps
Conflict of interest: None. the most widely recognised of these models being the

© 2016 The Australian Psychological Society 1


GILL et al.

not been supported, particularly with regard to the


importance of an interaction between childhood emo-
tional vulnerability and an invalidating early environ-
ment (Reeves, 2007; Sauer & Baer, 2010).
A study by Gill and Warburton (2014) used structural
equation modelling to test the model directly and con-
firmed the importance of emotion dysregulation in BPD.
However the best-fit model differed to the biosocial
model in two key ways. First, the interaction between
invalidating parenting and emotional vulnerability was
not significant and needed to be pruned from the model.
In addition, invalidating parenting and childhood emo-
tional vulnerability exhibited direct relationships with
Figure 1 Simplified representation of the biosocial model. Interested
readers are encouraged to refer to the significantly more detailed repre-
BPD, even after accounting for current levels of emo-
sentation located at: Crowell et al. (2009). tional dysregulation.
Several aspects of Gill and Warburton’s (2014) find-
ings require further clarification. First, it is still unclear
biosocial model (Fig. 1). (Linehan, 1993). This model whether the constructs identified by the biosocial model
posits that BPD is due to an underlying emotional regu- are specific to the aetiology of BPD. Linehan’s (1993)
lation difficulty, in turn caused by an interaction statement that emotional vulnerability involves a “high
between an emotionally vulnerable child being raised in sensitivity to emotional stimuli, emotional intensity, and
an emotionally invalidating environment. More recent slow return to emotional baseline” (p. 43), appears to
incarnations of the biosocial theory, citing neurological describe a construct akin to emotional lability, a compo-
data and the higher incidence of impulse control disor- nent of neuroticism (Kwon & Weed, 2007). Given that
ders in relatives of those with BPD, have further argued neuroticism has been linked to an array of mental disor-
that childhood impulsivity may also play a role in the ders (Ormel et al., 2013), it is possible that the construct
development of borderline traits (Crowell et al., 2009). that Linehan is describing is an aetiological factor for a
It is likely that the eminence of this model is due in number of disorders. Similarly, the definition of invali-
part to its forming the basis for dialectical behaviour dating parenting describes a manner of parenting which
therapy, a therapy for BPD that is both widely used could be anticipated to lead to a range of emotional diffi-
(Swenson, 2000) and effective (Bloom, Woodward, Sus- culties. Consequently, it could be argued that, whilst the
maras, & Pantalone, 2012; Kliem, Kröger, & Kosfelder, model found by Gill and Warburton successfully pre-
2010). Some aspects of the model when explored with dicted borderline traits, the model is so generic that it
adults with borderline traits have found empirical sup- may have been equally predictive of a range of other
port. For example, strong relationships have been found mental disorders.
between borderline traits and current levels of emotional Finally Gill and Warburton did not consider the con-
dysregulation (e.g., Salsman & Linehan, 2012), emo- struct of childhood impulsivity in their modelling,
tional invalidation plays a significant role in the disorder despite more recent incarnations of the biosocial model
(Sturrock & Mellor, 2014), and sufferers possess a heigh- arguing that this is an important antecedent (Crowell
tened level of emotional reactivity (e.g., Gratz, et al., 2009). As a consequence it is unknown whether
Rosenthal, Tull, Lejuez, & Gunderson, 2010). the inclusion of this construct would substantially
Other studies however have failed to confirm, or enhance the capacity of the model to account for the
have only partly confirmed the relationship between development of BPD, or how this construct would relate
borderline traits and other putatively important con- to the other model components.
structs such as affective intensity (Herpertz, Kunert,
Schwenger, & Sass, 1999) or emotional dysregulation
Present Study
(Gratz, Rosenthal, Tull, Lejuez, & Gunderson, 2009).
Furthermore, some studies have encountered difficulties In order to clarify the issues regarding the specificity of
in establishing that being emotionally invalidated is more the biosocial model to BPD, we sought to measure the
difficult for those with borderline traits relative to key constructs as identified by the model and then
healthy controls (e.g., Woodberry, Gallo, & Nock, 2008). determine whether the relationship between the con-
Finally, when the developmental aspects of the model structs were equally applicable to borderline traits as to
have been tested empirically, its central predictions have another form of psychopathology. A comparison

2 © 2016 The Australian Psychological Society


Childhood antecedents of borderline traits

psychopathology of chronic worry/generalised anxiety background, with a further 19% and 17% identifying with
disorder (GAD) was selected, as it has a range of simi- Asian and European backgrounds, respectively. Eighteen
larities to BPD, including chronicity (Newman, Llera, percent of participants had engaged in therapy (being ther-
Erickson, Przeworski, & Castonguay, 2013), childhood apy that occurred more frequently than once a month),
antecedents likely playing a role in its development with 86% of those identifying that therapy had made them
(Newman et al., 2013), and demonstrated links to emo- somewhat or much better.
tion regulation difficulties (Mennin, McLaughlin, & Fla-
nagan, 2009). Furthermore, the disorder has a strong
Materials and Procedure
relationship with neuroticism (Bourgeois & Brown,
2015), thereby allowing for the testing of the hypothe- The following measures were administered online, using
sis that the construct of emotional vulnerability is the Qualtrics Survey tool. Given the number of items,
already accounted for by this more generic risk factor. the presentation of all measures after the initial demo-
Despite these commonalities, the disorders are consid- graphics measure were randomised to ensure that partic-
ered to be categorically distinct, with each belonging to ipant fatigue would not systematically influence the
different classes of disorders (American Psychiatric results. All procedures and measures used in the study
Association, 2013). Further, although the presence of complied with APA ethical guidelines and had approval
BPD does increase the likelihood of having GAD (odds from the local Human Research Ethics Committee
ratio = 6.9), this comorbidity rate is lower than that of (Reference: 5201300082).
a number of other disorders, such as dysthymia and The Borderline Personality Questionnaire (BPQ; Poreh
panic disorder (Lenzenweger, Lane, Loranger, & Kess- et al., 2006). is an 80-item self-report measure assessing the
ler, 2007), potentially suggesting a more distinct aetio- nine borderline domains, as identified by the Diagnostic and
logical pathway. Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.,
It was hypothesised that if the biosocial model is spe- DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000). It con-
cific to BPD that the constructs considered important to tains dichotomous questions such as “I often feel empty
the model (i.e., childhood emotional vulnerability, child- inside” and “The people I love often leave me.” It has previ-
hood impulsivity, having experienced invalidating par- ously been used as a dimensional measure of borderline
enting and current emotional dysregulation), would traits, with the subscales demonstrating adequate internal
correlate more strongly to current borderline traits than consistency (α = .78–.93) (Fonseca-Pedrero et al., 2011).
to chronic worry. It was further hypothesised that if a Further, when used for the screening of outpatient youth
structural equation model was developed using these with the disorder, it has compared favourably to comparable
constructs that the best fitting model would indicate rela- measures (Chanen et al., 2008). As has been previously dis-
tionships between the constructs consistent with the bio- cussed (Gill & Warburton, 2014), the standard method of
social model’s predictions for BPD but not for chronic scoring the BPQ is problematic as it involves summing all the
worry. Finally, it was hypothesised that the resulting scores despite each subscale having a variable number of
model would be much better able to account for current items that may be endorsed, thus giving some symptoms
borderline traits than current levels of chronic worry. more prominence than others in the total score. This method
of scoring is difficult to justify, given that the primary diag-
nostic text used to describe these traits, the DSM, does not
Method
give precedence to some BPD symptoms over others
(American Psychiatric Association, 2000, 2013). Conse-
Participants
quently the scoring of the BPQ was completed by transform-
Participants were first year psychology students complet- ing the mean level of endorsement of each of the subscales
ing the study for course credit, with a sufficient sample into a z-score prior to the creation of an overall mean score,
being sought to complete the proposed structural equa- thus not favouring one facet of BPD over the others.
tion modelling. Of the 274 completed questionnaires The Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ; Meyer,
received, 3 were removed on the basis of random Miller, Metzger, & Borkovec, 1990) is a 16-item measure
responding being present (due to the questionnaire being of chronic worry, with respondents indicating on a 5-
completed in the implausibly short time of less than point Likert scale how a given statement is typical of
8 min). This was the sole data exclusion and all other them. It includes items such as “I never worry about
data manipulations used in the study are reported below. anything” and “I worry about projects until they are all
The final sample consisted of 271 participants (48 male, done.” An overall score is derived by summing the
223 female) with a mean age of 20.51 years (SD = 5.56). values of the responses. It has been found to have a test–
Overall 49% of participants identified with an Australian retest reliability of .93 and an internal consistency of .95

© 2016 The Australian Psychological Society 3


GILL et al.

(Meyer et al., 1990), with evidence existing for its con- levels of borderline traits (Sauer & Baer, 2010). Gill and
vergent and divergent validity (Brown, Antony, & Bar- Warburton (2014) found that only three of the given
low, 1992). Finally, there is also some support for its use scenarios were required to accurately assess the con-
as a screening measure of GAD (Behar, Alcaine, Zuel- structs of validating and invalidating parenting, as there
lig, & Borkovec, 2003). was very strong internal reliability across the three sce-
The Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS; narios, and the resulting measure strongly correlated
Gratz & Roemer, 2004) focuses upon an individual’s with the measure that utilised six scenarios. Thus, only
response to emotions rather than the frequency or inten- these three scenarios were used in the present study: the
sity of the emotions themselves. Responses are made parent’s response to the child (1) being upset after
using a 6-point Likert scale, with participants indicating watching a scary TV show; (2) being upset about staying
how much a given statement applies to them. It has at a friend’s house in the absence of the parent; and
36 items, these including items such as “I have difficulty (3) losing a prized possession. Participants were asked to
making sense out of my feelings” and “When I’m upset, nominate one parent as their primary care giver and to
I become embarrassed for feeling that way.” It assesses rate the same parent across each of the scenarios. In the
six facets of emotion dysregulation, which are summed event that the participant had multiple caregivers they
to provide a score reflecting an individual’s overall level were instructed to select the caregiver who had the
of regulation difficulties. It has good internal consistency greatest (positive or negative) impact upon them.
(α = .93–.94), a good test–retest reliability (ρI = .88) and The Emotional Vulnerability–Child Scale (EV-Child;
predictive validity in relation to self-harm, a common Sauer & Baer, 2010) is a 21 item self-report measure
behavioural consequence of emotional dysregulation where childhood emotional vulnerability is rated retro-
(Gratz & Roemer, 2004, 2008). spectively. It incorporates aspects of the Affective Inten-
It should be noted that the authors were also inter- sity Measure (Bryant, Yarnold, & Grimm, 1996) and
ested in a wider investigation of the construct that is not some items relating to Linehan’s conceptualisation of
reported here. For this reason, the questionnaire battery emotional vulnerability as involving a slow return to
included an additional 69 items assessing other facets of baseline once emotionally activated. Participants are
emotion dysregulation. Thus the DERS items and the asked to rate themselves on a 6-point Likert scale with
additional items were presented at random to partici- regard to how well a statement characterised their emo-
pants, but only the DERS items are reported here. tional style as a child (1 = Never, 6 = Always). It contains
As has previously been noted (Gill & Warburton, items such as “In scary situations, I got more scared than
2014), the method of calculating the DERS by summing most other children” and “It took me a long time to calm
each of the subscales is problematic, as it gives more down after getting upset about something.” The EV-Child
weighting to certain components of emotional dysregu- has high levels of internal consistency (α = .91–.94), is
lation over others, despite this not having been the strongly related to borderline symptoms, emotion dysre-
explicit intent of Gratz and Roemer (2004). Conse- gulation, thought suppression and being fearful of emo-
quently, as with the BPQ, DERS subscales have differing tions (Gill & Warburton, 2014; Sauer & Baer, 2010).
numbers of items, and so the total score (“DERS”) was Retrospective Childhood Impulsivity Scale (RCIS). We
calculated as the mean standardised score for each of the could not find a validated, retrospective, self-report
six domains in the original DERS, so that no domain measure of childhood impulsivity. The 30-item Barrett
would have precedence over another. Impulsivity Scale-11 (BIS-11; Patton, Stanford, & Bar-
The Recalled Childhood Socialization of Emotion Scale ratt, 1995) is arguably the most commonly used measure
(RCSES; Krause, Mendelson, & Lynch, 2003) is a meas- of impulsivity for clinical and research purposes
ure of emotional validation by parents. Participants are (Stanford et al., 2009). Thus the BIS-11 (Patton et al.,
given a series of common childhood scenarios which 1995) appeared to be the best scale from which to
would evoke an emotional response from a child, and develop a new, retrospective measure for childhood
asked how likely it is that their parent would have made impulsivity. This new scale, the RCIS, was then devel-
six different responses (e.g., tell me that I was over- oped using the following procedure:
reacting), on a 7-point Likert scale. These responses then We examined the factor structure of the BIS-11 when
yield two scores, assessing the parent for levels of emo- it had been utilised with a preteen sample to rate their
tional validation and invalidation, with these scales hav- current levels of impulsivity (Cosi, Vigil-Colet, Canals, &
ing demonstrated high levels of internal consistency Lorenzo-Seva, 2008), with three factors having been
(α = .88–.95) when rating parents of either gender identified (motor impulsivity, “not planning” impulsivity
(Sauer & Baer, 2010). Both scales have demonstrated and cognitive impulsivity). Two psychologists experi-
the capacity to predict significant unique variation in enced in working with children chose 11 items spread

4 © 2016 The Australian Psychological Society


Childhood antecedents of borderline traits

across the three factors as those best representing each distributed, which was resolved via a logarithmic trans-
construct. These items were then modified to allow for formation (with all subsequent reports of this measure
the retrospective rating of childhood impulsivity, prima- using the transformed value). The childhood emotional
rily through re-wording the items to change the tense. vulnerability (“EV-CHILD”), RCSES-Invalidation
Reviewing the selected items there was a concern that (“INVALID PARENT”) and RCSES-Validation (“VALID
the cognitive impulsivity domain would not be ade- PARENT”) scores were converted to z-scores to allow for
quately measured and so an item was added to assess the calculation of interaction effects (obtained by multi-
this domain (“I was a quick thinker”). Finally, one key plying the standardised scores together and generating
item to assess overall childhood impulsivity was also the variables “EV*INVALID” and “EV*VALID”).
added (“I was impulsive”), yielding a total of 13 items Some of the independent demographic variables were
that could be used as an overall measure of childhood categorical or had problems with normality, necessitating
impulsivity. A 6-point Likert scale asked how often each their transformation into dichotomous variables.
statement applied to participants when they were a As we were unaware of an instance in the literature
child, where 1 = Never and 6 = Always. where both the BPQ and PSWQ had been administered
As this scale was newly created, care was taken when to a sample in order to establish the discriminant validity
examining the results in order to ensure the new measure of the measures, correlations between these measures
was valid and reliable. An analysis of inter-item correla- and the other main variables were calculated (see
tions of the items revealed weak and inconsistent correla- Table 1). A strong relationship was noted between the
tions between the item “I was a quick thinker” and the BPQ and the DERS, but substantial amounts of non-
other items in the measure, raising questions as to whether overlapping variation existed between these measures,
this item was assessing childhood impulsivity (or perhaps suggesting that differing constructs were being assessed.
perceived cognitive ability). As a consequence this item The measures of parenting were found to be strongly
was removed from the measure. The remaining 12 items related to the BPQ and the DERS, but not the PSWQ.
were found to be quite reliable (α = .87), suggesting that a EV-Child was found to be strongly related to the DERS,
homogenous construct was being measured, and that BPQ and PSWQ, with the strength of this relationship
reducing the number of items (relative to the 30 items in being comparable across the three measures.
the BIS-11) had not undermined the scale’s reliability. Fur-
ther, for the purposes of convergent validity, the RCIS cor-
related with adult levels of impulsivity (as assessed by one Modelling of the Biosocial Model
of the BPQ subscales) at r(269) = .33, p < .01, with this
Structural equation modelling is a technique providing a
meaning that there was 89% non-overlapping variation
number of extensions to regression modelling, allowing
between the measures. This supported the contention that
more complex relationships between variables to be
RCIS was measuring a construct related to, but not identi-
examined. An important extension is to allow more than
cal to that of adult impulsivity.
one regression relationship, and hence more than one
dependent variable, in a single model, allowing for them
to be simultaneously tested and also determining the
Results
level of any indirect effects. Such indirect effects occur
when the effect of an independent variable on a depend-
Calculation of Measures
ent variable occurs through a mediating variable.
As had previously been found by Gill and Warburton The model design sought to reflect the biosocial
(2014), RCSES-Invalidation was not normally model. Given our hypothesis that the model may be

Table 1 Correlation between dependent and independent variables

BPQ PSWQ DERS EV-CHILD VALID PARENT INVALID PARENT RCIS

BPQ 1.00
PSWQ .56*** 1.00
DERS .69*** .53*** 1.00
EV-CHILD .49*** .49*** .43*** 1.00
VALID PARENT −.32*** −.07 −.19*** −.20*** 1.00
INVALID PARENT .27*** .08 .22*** .25*** −.63*** 1.00
RCIS .13** .00 .21*** .10* −.06 .12** 1.00
*
Note: p < .10, **p < .05, ***p < .01.

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GILL et al.

equally applicable to chronic worry as to borderline


traits, the PSWQ was positioned in the initial model in
an identical fashion to the BPQ.
The initial model consisted of the three dependent
variables (BPQ, PSWQ and DERS) and the independent
variables (demographic variables, childhood impulsivity,
childhood emotional vulnerability, validating/invalidat-
ing parenting and the two interaction effects between
emotional vulnerability and validating/invalidating par-
enting). The variables BPQ and PSWQ were considered
dependent on all other variables including DERS. The
DERS was posited to have a direct relationship to both
the BPQ and the PSWQ. All the other independent vari-
ables were posited to have a direct and indirect (via the
DERS) relationship with the BPQ and the PSWQ. All
independent variables were posited to co-vary, as were
the error terms for the BPQ and the PSWQ. The present Figure 2 Model examining the Biosocial model in relation to BPQ and
study was performed with AMOS software. the PSWQ (N = 271) with all non-significant direct effects removed
As Gill and Warburton (2014) found, the removal of (p < .05). The integers represent standardised estimates for each path.
non-significant paths and co-variances led to significant For simplicity of presentation not all significant co-variances are noted,
changes in the chi-squared value, despite other fit indices nor are all independent variables.
(less affected by sample size) remaining stable. Conse-
quently the same solution was applied, namely to prune acceptable level of fit (Byrne, 2009). This suggests that
paths from the model on the basis of the significance of the pruning of paths simplified the model without hav-
the co-variances and direct effects. The model was pruned ing a significant impact upon its capacity to account for
of all weak co-variances, rerun and further co-variances variation in the key constructs.
were pruned. This process was repeated until only signifi- The final model was able to account for substantial
cant (p < .05) co-variances remained. The same pruning amounts of the variation in both current borderline traits
technique was then utilised for the direct effects. (56%) and chronic worry (41%), with current emotional
Fit indices for the initial and final models were com- dysregulation possessing a significant relationship with
piled (see Table 2). All goodness of fit indices for the ini- both these constructs (significant at p < .001 for both vari-
tial model were very high, reflecting the zero degrees of ables). Childhood emotional vulnerability possessed both
freedom, with the exception of RMSEA which has been direct and indirect (via emotional dysregulation) relation-
shown to perform poorly at low degrees of freedom ships with borderline traits and chronic worry (all these
(Kenny, Kaniskan, & McCoach, 2014). The final model relationships were significant at p < .001). Validating par-
(see Fig. 2) had an acceptable chi-squared statistic enting had a direct path to borderline traits (significant at
χ 2(45, N = 271) = 43.22, p = .548 (χ 2/df = .96) and per- p = .03), but this relationship was not significant in relation
formed adequately in relation to relevant fit indices (see to chronic worry (at α < .05, leading the removal of this
Table 2). In particular, the probability of a close fit was path from the model). The putatively critical interaction
.99; with this value exceeding .50 thus indicating an between childhood emotional vulnerability and invalidat-
ing parenting was not found to be a significant predictor of
either the borderline traits or chronic worry (both of these
Table 2 Fit indices in relation to initial and final models
being non-significant when α < .05, with these paths
Initial Final therefore having been removed from the model). Child-
model model
hood impulsivity had an indirect (via emotional dysregula-
Goodness of fit index (GFI) 1.00 .98 tion) relationship with both borderline traits and chronic
Comparative fit index (CFI) 1.00 1.00 worry; however, in the case of the chronic worry it also
Root mean square residual (RMR) .00 .03 had a negative, direct path to this construct.
Standardised root mean square .00 .05
residual (SRMR)
Normed fit index (NFI) 1.00 .96
Discussion
Root mean square error of approximation .00
(RMSEA) The findings broadly supported the biosocial model’s
Probability of close fit (PCLOSE) – .99 predictions regarding the importance of the key-

6 © 2016 The Australian Psychological Society


Childhood antecedents of borderline traits

identified constructs to borderline traits, in particular Invalidating Parenting


emotional dysregulation. Similar to Gill and Warburton’s
The biosocial model posits that invalidating parenting
(2014) study, however, the way these constructs related
plays a causative role in the development of emotional
to each other differed from the biosocial model as it
dysregulation and BPD. Whilst the final model suggested
applies to BPD. In particular, the putatively critical inter-
that the absence of validating parenting plays a signifi-
action between childhood emotional vulnerability and
cant role, the model also seems to support the biosocial
invalidating parenting was found to predict neither emo-
model’s assertion that parental responses to emotions
tional dysregulation nor borderline traits, and the
are particularly important in relation to BPD. However,
absence of validating parenting, as opposed to the pres-
care should be exercised in interpreting the correlational
ence of invalidating parenting, played an important role
nature of this relationship.
in accounting for adult borderline traits. As predicted by
First, a number of borderline traits involve engaging in
a more recent incarnation of the biosocial model
overt, confronting behaviours (e.g., making suicide
(Crowell et al., 2009), childhood impulsivity was related
threats, self-harm); in contrast to the more subtle,
to adult borderline traits, albeit via the construct of emo-
socially acceptable behaviours associated with chronic
tional dysregulation.
worry. It is possible that the relationship between bord-
When examining the applicability of the model to both
erline traits and (in)validating parenting is due to parents
chronic worry and borderline traits, it is noteworthy that
finding borderline traits more confronting and challeng-
the correlation of the DERS with both disorders was large,
ing to manage, making it more likely that the parent will
as per Cohen’s (1988) criteria. Whilst this relationship
struggle to respond appropriately to the child’s emotional
was stronger for BPD, the strength of the relationship
experience, this parenting may be a consequence, rather
with chronic worry makes it difficult to differentiate BPD
than a cause of, borderline traits.
in terms of the construct of emotional dysregulation.
Second, whilst the measure of validating parenting
Indeed, what appeared to better distinguish high levels of
was found to play an important role in the model, con-
borderline traits to high levels of chronic worry were dif-
sideration should be given to whether the relationship
ferences in reported parenting experiences and childhood
between this parenting and BPD is direct. A range of abu-
impulsivity. Consequently, whilst it may be accurate to
sive childhood experiences including poor parenting are
describe emotional dysregulation as being central to BPD
associated with the development of borderline traits as
(e.g., Speranza, 2013), care should be taken not to
an adult (Helgeland & Torgersen, 2004; Hernandez,
assume these constructs are synonymous, given the
Arntz, Gaviria, Labad, & Gutiérrez-Zotes, 2012; Zanarini
important role that emotional dysregulation plays in
et al., 1997). Given the tendency for inappropriate par-
other psychopathologies (such as chronic worry).
enting practises to cluster (e.g., Sheffield, Waller, Ema-
Similarly, the construct of having been an emotionally
nuelli, Murray, & Meyer, 2005; Warburton, 2007), it is
vulnerable child appeared to play a very similar role
possible that the management of the child’s emotions are
across both the pathologies, both in terms of how it func-
not of critical importance to the development of border-
tioned in the model and also in terms of the strength of
line traits, but rather they indicate an increased risk of
its correlation to both disorders (being nearly identical).
exposure to other poor parenting practices or child abuse,
This suggests that emotional vulnerability may represent
which in turn may be of greater aetiological importance.
a more general risk factor for psychopathology, rather
Third, an inappropriate response to the child’s emotional
than being uniquely relevant to BPD.
experiences by a parent may indicate a poor parental toler-
Finally, the constructs identified as being of impor-
ance of emotions and their expressions, and therefore high
tance to the biosocial model were able to account for a
levels of parental emotional dysregulation and borderline
significant proportion of the variation in current levels of
traits. Consequently given that borderline traits have a
chronic worry. Furthermore, with the exception of the
heritability of approximately 40% (Amad, Ramoz, Tho-
two paths from childhood impulsivity and validating par-
mas, Jardri, & Gorwood, 2014), the poor management of
enting to the PSWQ and BPQ, respectively, both border-
the child’s emotional experiences may have limited direct
line traits and chronic worry had a similar structural
effect upon the developing child, with the measure of
relationship to the other constructs. Overall, the fact that
parental (in)validation used in this study serving as a
much of the configuration posited by the biosocial model
proxy measure of genetic load for borderline traits.
is predictive of chronic worry supports the contention
that the biosocial model as it currently exists may better
Study Limitations
represent a generic template for a range of psychopathol-
ogies featuring emotional dysregulation, rather than a The use of retrospective self-report potentially limits the
model specific to BPD. interpretability of the findings, in that a number of

© 2016 The Australian Psychological Society 7


GILL et al.

alternate hypotheses could account for the results. It is Finally, the issue of invalidating parenting and
plausible that those with borderline traits are more likely whether this plays a significant causal role in the devel-
to recall instances of invalidation, or perceive parenting opment of borderline traits warrants further examina-
failures in a more extreme fashion than those with tion. In particular it would be useful to establish whether
chronic worry. It is also possible that individuals with reports of such parenting indicate genetic load, other
chronic worry or borderline traits (or other current life forms of poor parenting or responses by parents to emer-
difficulties) may be referencing their current levels of ging borderline traits.
emotional vulnerability when completing the measure
of childhood emotional vulnerability, rather than accu-
rately rating this domain for when they were a child. References
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