Date of Award

Spring 2020


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Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS) in Psychology: General/Experimental




Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by intense emotional lability, resistance to treatment, interpersonal problems, and high rates of suicide. All of these result in extensive costs to individuals diagnosed with BPD, their loved ones, and to society in general. Yet there is still no general consensus concerning the relative importance of factors contributing to development of BPD. Linehan’s 1993 biosocial model of BPD provides a framework for investigating factors such as biological vulnerabilities and invalidating environments. Although extreme versions of invalidation, such as childhood abuse, have received much attention, others like parental rearing styles have received limited attention. This is surprising as aversive parenting practices such as intrusive, erratic, punitive, and withholding emotions would seem pertinent determinants of an invalidating environment. Even more surprising is the paucity of research investigating potential interactions of parental rearing with genetic vulnerabilities, such as the Monoamine Oxidase A gene (MAOA). The present study pursued this line of investigation. Three variants of the MAOA gene were focused on. The highly active variant MAOA-H has been found in significantly higher rates among patients with Borderline Personality Disorder. The Monoamine Oxidase A gene creates a potential vulnerability, which in turn creates a potential pathway for Borderline Personality Disorder development. Thus, the proposed study aimed to measure parental rearing as three constructs: a) overprotection, b) rejection, and c) emotional warmth. It was predicted that MAOA-H would moderate the effects of parental rearing on Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms by increasing the magnitude of the relationship between the three parental rearing styles and Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms, while MAOA-L would decrease it and MAOA-M would be intermediate. Three moderated hierarchical regressions were run to test these predictions. There was no moderation detected in any analyses. However, the predicted pattern of MAOA moderated relationships was confirmed for parental rejection and BPD symptoms, with the relationships being significant in the MAOA-H and MAOA-M groups. The relationship between overprotection and BPD symptoms was significant for the MAOA-H group, while in the MAOA-M and MAOA-L groups the relationships were both not significant. The relationship between emotional warmth and BPD symptoms was only significant for the MAOA-M group. While no moderation effect was revealed, the study was underpowered and a future replication study with a much larger sample may be able to detect similar trends while possessing the statistical power to detect moderation.