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

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Diurnal Cycling and Instability of Positive and Negative Affect: A Comparison of Borderline Personality and Community Individuals

Individuals commonly experience diurnal cycling in their affect. Those with stable oscillations are thought to regulate their affect effectively. In contrast, individuals characterized by mood dysregulation, such as those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), are expected to have less stable cycles and/or those that vacillate more extremely. This perspective integrates conceptualizations of high moment-to-moment affective instability in BPD with one that suggests a pattern of more extreme, but systematic, temporal variability. We examined the diurnal trajectories of positive and negative affect in a sample of 56 BPD individuals and a comparison group of community individuals (COM; n = 60) who carried electronic diaries for 21 days. Participants completed random prompts 6 times each day. Both BPD and COM individuals displayed similar curvilinear diurnal patterns of positive affect that peaked in late afternoon. While COM individuals showed essentially flat daily trajectories for negative affect, BPD individuals were characterized by higher set points and larger curvilinear early afternoon peaks. Across positive and negative affect, though BPD individuals displayed more systematic variability in their diurnal trajectories, they simultaneously exhibited more random moment-to-moment instability. Such analyses elucidate the temporal layers of emotional experience, which may provide different focal points for emotion regulation strategies.

Sean Lane
Purdue University

Timothy Trull
University of Missouri


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