The construct of effortful control: An approach to borderline personality disorder heterogeneity

Simone Hoermann, John F. Clarkin, James W. Hull, Kenneth N. Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Background: The present study investigated the heterogeneity of DSM-IV borderline personality disorder (BPD) diagnosis as a function of the construct of effortful control. We hypothesized 3 subgroups of BPD patients based on effortful control, that would also differ in other areas of functioning, such as symptoms, interpersonal relations and personality organization. Sampling and Methods: Forty-seven clinically referred individuals were reliably diagnosed as meeting DSM-IV criteria for BPD using semistructured interviews. Effortful control, symptomatology, interpersonal functioning and personality organization were assessed using self-report questionnaires. Results: Cluster and profile analyses were performed and identified 3 subgroups. Subgroup 1, with high effortful control, exhibited the fewest problems in symptoms, interpersonal functioning and personality organization. Subgroup 3, with low ratings of effortful control, had the most problems in these areas, and subgroup 2, a group high in some aspects of effortful control but low in others, ranged midway between groups 1 and 3. Discussion: The findings indicate a relationship between attentional mechanisms and the clinical expression of borderline personality pathology. Effortful control is a valuable construct for identifying subgroups of BPD patients, thus helping to understand the heterogeneity in BPD. Limitations of the study include the exclusive use on self-report of effortful control, as well as the small sample size. Future research should further investigate the associations of neurocognition and borderline pathology, as well as different approaches to treatment of the different BPD subgroups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-86
Number of pages5
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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