Date of Award

Spring 4-13-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Amy Mezulis, PhD

Second Advisor/Committee Member

David Stewart, PhD

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Sheila Crowell, PhD


The current study examined the relationship between emotional vulnerability, invalidation, and emotion dysregulation as they predicted borderline features in a community sample of young adolescents. Emotional vulnerability, as measured by trait negative affect (trait NA), as well as the psychophysiological component of basal vagal tone, as measured by respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), were proposed as risk factors for borderline features. Emotion dysregulation as indexed both by psychophysiological indices (vagal tone in response to stress i.e., RSA reactivity) and self-report measures was hypothesized to function as a mediator between trait NA and borderline features. A moderated mediation model was then proposed with parental invalidation moderating the relationship between trait NA and emotion dysregulation. A total of 101 youth, 53% female, with a mean age of 12.82 (SD=0.83) completed a laboratory task to measure their RSA at rest and while completing a stressor task. Trait NA, parental invalidation, emotion dysregulation, and borderline features were assessed through self-report questionnaires. Support was found when models were assessed cross-sectionally, using self-report measures only. The direct effect of trait NA on borderline features was significantly mediated by emotion dysregulation. Furthermore parental invalidation did function as a moderator between trait NA and emotion dysregulation. The full moderated mediation model was also significant. When measured using psychophysiological indices, no relationship was found between any study variables. Results indicate that child temperament, specifically trait NA, and invalidating parenting interact to produce emotional dysregulation, which is related to increased borderline pathology among adolescents. However, the study did not implicate the involvement of physiological vulnerabilities and patterns of responding in the development of borderline features. This study suggests that understanding the risk for the development of borderline features in adolescence needs more rigorous and continued research, particularly in understanding the biological risk and role of psychophysiological responding to stress in the development of the disorder. Further exploration of how these variables are related will be important in understanding the etiology of borderline features across development.

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