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Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Research in Psychopathology

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175. An Idiographic Examination of the Functions of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury: Evidence from Three Real-Time Monitoring Studies

Why do people engage in non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), a behavior that goes against the innate drive for self-preservation? In this study, we address three questions about the functions of NSSI: how much NSSI functions vary between people over time (generalizability), how much NSSI functions vary within people over time (stability), and how often NSSI functions co-occur over time (co-occurrence) using data from three self-injuring samples: outpatients (N=7), community-based adolescents (N=15), and community-based adults (N=9). In each study, participants underwent ecological momentary assessment (including questions about NSSI functions) for between 2 and 20 weeks. We restricted the analytic sample to participants who had >2 NSSI episodes during the study period. Results indicated that between-person variability (quantified with intraclass correlations) and within-person variability (quantified with root mean square of successive differences) in NSSI functions varied by function type (e.g. to relieve negative emotions vs. to generate positive emotions), function measurement (e.g. categorical vs. dimensional), and sample type (e.g. adolescents vs. adults). Results also revealed that a considerable proportion of NSSI episodes across samples (22%, 38%, and 78%) are enacted for more than one function. These results represent the most fine-grained data on variability in NSSI functions over time to date.

Daniel Coppersmith
Harvard University

Kate Bentley
Massachusetts General Hospital / Harvard Medical School

Evan Kleiman
Rutgers University

Matthew Nock
Harvard University


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