An empirical investigation of a social learning thesis of borderline personality development

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

C. Joy Green, Committee Chair


This investigation was undertaken in an attempt to lend empirical support to an emerging literature which suggests that the recent "epidemic" of borderline personality disorder may be related to social changes that have occurred in western societies during roughly the past 40 years. The social change dimensions examined were: "social discordance", which examined the impact of inconsistent societal values; "schismatic family structures", examining family structure changes; "television viewing", which examined the impact of television exposure; the effects of increases in drug and alcohol use; the "decline of consolidating institutions", which examined the waning influence on institutions such as religion; the reemergence of anomie, the loss of meaningful social causes; and, the disappearance of nurturing parental surrogates.The dimensions of social change were measured by way of the Social Factors Survey, a personal history questionnaire designed especially for this study. A group of 30 borderlines was compared to a group of 60 "other personality disorder" subjects, and a group of 40 non-clinical subjects for exposure to the eight dimensions of social change. Personality disorder diagnoses were made by use of the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory-II.It was hypothesized that borderline subjects would evidence greater exposure to the social change dimensions than would the non-clinical and the mixed clinical groups. It was further predicted that the mixed clinical group would occupy the intermediary position between the "normal" and borderline groups with regards to experience with the social change dimensions. Results indicated that significant and predicted order differences between the borderline and "normal" groups did exist for the "schismatic family structures" dimension, the "anomie" dimension, and a global measure of social change. Significant and expected differences between the mixed clinical and "normal" groups was found for the "decline of consolidating institutions" dimension, the "anomie" dimension, the "disappearance of nurturing parental surrogates" dimension, and a global measure of social change. The predicted differences between the two clinical groups was only found for the "anomie" dimension. Reasons for the lack of clinical group differentiation and implications of the differences found were discussed.


Psychology, Clinical

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