Detection of impaired irony observed in patients with borderline personality disorder

Can Personality Disorders Affect Your Sense of Humor? A study published in Borderline personality disorder and emotional dysregulation suggests that borderline symptoms are associated with difficulty detecting irony.

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by an unstable relationship pattern, intense emotions, impulsivity, and a distorted sense of self. People with borderline symptoms often experience difficulty regulating their emotions and display impulsive behaviors.

Borderline personality disorder can also manifest itself in the way individuals handle social communication. Social cognition encompasses understanding of oneself and others and develops through childhood interpersonal interactions. When a child lacks a reliable caregiver, which is common among those with borderline personality disorder, they tend to have more difficulty understanding the nuances and intricacies of social communication.

Irony, or saying something contrary to what is intended for humorous effect, is a common source of misinterpretation, as it requires an ability to recognize meaning beyond literal words. The new study sought to understand how borderline personality disorder might affect the ability to detect irony.

For their research, study authors Anne Katrin Felsenheimer, Carolin Kieckhfer, and Alexander Michael Rapp used 30 participants with borderline personality disorder and 30 matched controls as a sample. Individuals with borderline personality disorder were recruited from a dialectical behavior therapy department in a German hospital. Controls were matched based on age, gender, education level, and verbal intelligence.

All participants completed measures on borderline personality symptoms, schizotypal personality symptoms, interpersonal responsiveness, and irony paradigm. The irony paradigm involved watching a videotaped background story introducing a character in a bar and exchanging messages. Messages included tongue-in-cheek praise, literal praise, tongue-in-cheek criticism, or literal criticism. Participants rated their literality and perceived intent.

The results showed that participants with borderline personality disorder had a harder time differentiating ironic and literal statements than the control group. There were no significant differences between criticism and praise, showing that the difficulty of deciphering was in the literalness of the statement, rather than the intention.

Both participants with borderline personality disorder and controls had an easier time detecting wry criticism than wry praise, implying that wry criticism is more easily processed overall. The control group, interpreting literal praise ironically, assigned negative intent to literal praise, showing a negativity bias.

Likewise, they interpreted wry praise and literal criticism. Empathy and schizotypal symptomatology were not significantly related to irony detection beyond what was explained by borderline personality disorder.

This study has taken significant steps to better understand communication in individuals with borderline personality disorder. Despite this, there are limitations to note. There were high rates of comorbidity with other psychiatric diagnoses within the BPD group. Finally, this sample was small, well educated, and exhibited high verbal intelligence, which may not be typical for people with borderline personality disorder.

The study, “Detection of Irony in Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder: An Experimental Study Examining Schizotypal Traits, Response Bias, and Empathy,” was written by Anne Katrin Felsenheimer, Carolin Kieckhfer, and Alexander Michael Rapp.

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