Emotional working memory updating in individuals with borderline personality features

Nasrin Esmaeilian, Jonas Everaert*, Mohsen Dehghani, Ali Khatibi, Ali Reza Moradi, Ernst H.W. Koster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and objectives: Individuals with features of borderline personality disorder (BPD) are highly sensitive to social rejection. Working memory (WM) may play a critical role in processing emotional interpersonal information in BPD. Yet, little is known about how emotional WM operations are related to sensitivity to rejection cues and BPD features. Therefore, this study examined relationships among emotional WM operations, rejection sensitivity, and BPD features. Methods: Participants with BPD features (n = 39 with non-suicidal self-injury history; n = 47 without non-suicidal self-injury history) and healthy participants (n = 46) completed an emotional two-back task before and after a social exclusion induction (the Cyberball game). Results. Results showed that participants with BPD features were slower at discarding faces expressing anger and pain from WM compared to healthy individuals before the social exclusion induction. Participants with BPD features and a history of self-injury were also slower at entering happy faces into WM compared to the other participants. Moreover, across participants, slower WM discarding of angry and pain faces was associated with higher levels of rejection sensitivity. Finally, no group differences emerged with respect to WM entering and discarding operations for emotional faces in response to social exclusion. Limitations: This study was conducted in a sample of undergraduate students and did not consider comorbidity with other forms of psychopathology. Conclusions: These findings cast light on how emotional WM difficulties may be involved in how individuals with BPD process emotional interpersonal information.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101636
Pages (from-to)101636
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Early online date5 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Research Foundation – Flanders awarded to JE. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Borderline personality
  • Emotional information-processing
  • Self-injury
  • Updating
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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