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Temperamental and acute symptoms of borderline personality disorder: associations with normal personality traits and dynamic relations over time

  • C. J. Hopwood (a1), M. B. Donnellan (a1) and M. C. Zanarini (a2)

Recent research suggests the utility of distinguishing temperamental and acute symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Temperamental symptoms, such as chronic anger and odd thinking, remit relatively slowly and have been hypothesized to reflect a hyperbolic predisposition to emotional pain and negativistic cognitions, whereas acute symptoms, such as substance abuse and chaotic relationships, remit relatively quickly and have been hypothesized to represent the consequences of maladaptations to triggering environmental events.


The relationships of temperamental and acute BPD symptoms with normal personality traits and stability and dynamic associations over time across these symptom sets were tested in a 10-year longitudinal study of 362 patients with personality disorders.


Temperamental symptoms were associated with high neuroticism, whereas acute symptoms were associated with low agreeableness. These symptoms had similar rank-order stabilities and relative changes in symptom sets were reciprocally linked in a cross-lagged path model suggesting dynamic associations between temperamental and acute symptoms over time.


The distinction between temperamental and acute BPD symptoms is supported by differential relations of these symptom sets to normal personality traits. Moreover, these symptoms appear to be linked in a mutually reinforcing dynamic over time. This distinction should be kept in mind in future studies of the aetiology of BPD and in diagnostic and treatment considerations.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr C. J. Hopwood, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824–1116, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
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