Year of Publication

2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. C. Nathan DeWall

Second Advisor

Dr. Suzanne C. Segerstrom

Abstract

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a disabling condition characterized by chronic emotion dysregulation and behavioral impulsivity. Prospective studies that test proposed mechanisms of within-person change in BPD hold the key to improving symptom predictability and control in this disorder. A small body of evidence suggests that fluctuations in estradiol such as those occurring naturally at ovulation during the monthly female reproductive cycle may increase symptoms in women with BPD (DeSoto et al., 2003). Furthermore, there is preliminary evidence that both self-esteem and feelings of social rejection are highest at ovulation, when estradiol peaks (Durante and Hill, 2009; Eisenlohr-Moul et al., under review). Such feelings have been reliably linked to increases in BPD-related behavior in all individuals (e.g., Twenge et al., 2002). The purpose of this dissertation was to test a cyclical vulnerability model for women with BPD in which ovulatory estradiol shifts are associated with reductions in felt social acceptance, which in turn are associated with increased BPD symptom expression. 40 women, sampled to achieve a flat distribution of BPD symptoms, completed 28 daily diaries online, as well as four 1-hour weekly visits to the laboratory to complete longer assessments and provide saliva samples, which were assayed for estradiol. In addition, participants underwent the Structured Clinical Interview for the Diagnosis of BPD at the end of the study.

Results of multilevel models revealed the opposite of the predicted effects of within-person changes in estradiol and their interaction with trait BPD. The data suggest a pattern in which women high in trait BPD show increases in felt acceptance and reductions in BPD symptom expression at higher levels of conception probability and higher-than-usual levels of estradiol. Women low in trait BPD show the opposite pattern in some cases. Several alternative moderators were tested, and results suggest that some risk factors for BPD (e.g., Neuroticism, Sexual Abuse) interact with high trait levels of estradiol to predict greater symptoms. Both average levels of estradiol and monthly fluctuations in estradiol may have relevance for women with BPD. It is recommended that future studies utilize clinical samples and additional physiological measures to further elucidate the mechanisms through which estradiol exerts clinically-relevant change.