Memory bias in borderline personality disorder: An examination of directed forgetting of emotional stimuli

Margaret McNamara McClure, Fordham University


The current study examined memory bias in individuals with BPD, comparing their performances on a task of directed forgetting to that of individuals with MDD and normal controls. Sixty participants were screened using structured clinical interviews and were assigned to one of the three experimental groups based on DSM-IV diagnosis; trauma exposure and vocabulary ability were also assessed and entered into all statistical models as covariates. The memory test consisted of 42 words of three valences: borderline-salient words, negative non-borderline-salient words, and positive words. Half of the words from each list were assigned to either a to-be-remembered (TBR) condition or a to-be-forgotten condition (TBF). An item-by-item cuing strategy was used and participants viewed all words using a computer program. Participants were given both a free-recall and recognition task; they were asked to write down or circle all words that they recalled or recognized, regardless of TBR/TBF instruction. Based on earlier research findings, it was hypothesized that individuals with BPD would display memory biases for borderline-salient information at a statistically higher rate than individuals with MDD and normal controls. There was a significant interaction between word type and group for the recall task; individuals in the BPD group recalled more borderline TBR words than individuals in the other groups; a similar pattern emerged on the recognition task, but the model failed to reach statistical significance. Additionally, two features of BPD, affective instability and feelings of emptiness, were significantly correlated with the percentage of words recalled in the borderline TBR condition. Thus, individuals with BPD demonstrated an enhanced recall for borderline salient stimuli in the TBR condition. This effect did not emerge for non-borderline, negative words; it also did not emerge for individuals in either the MDD group or the normal control group. Although the results of the current study are preliminary and are limited by some aspects of the design, they are promising and suggest that individuals with BPD do display a memory bias for borderline-salient information. A better understanding of these biases might augment current treatments for symptoms of BPD.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Cognitive therapy

Recommended Citation

McClure, Margaret McNamara, "Memory bias in borderline personality disorder: An examination of directed forgetting of emotional stimuli" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3169402.