A study conducted by Berlin et al., 2004, found that individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) appear to perceive the passing of time as faster than non-BPD individuals. The BPD sufferers in the study all self-harmed (an impulsive behaviour).

TIME PERCEPTION

Participants in the study were asked to estimate how long each of the following periods of time had lasted:

  • 10 seconds
  • 30 seconds
  • 60 seconds
  • 90 seconds

Those with borderline personality disorder, on average, made the following estimates:

  • 15.1 seconds (for the 10 second period)
  • 38.9 seconds (for the 30 second period)
  • 64.7 seconds (for the 60 second period)
  • 91.5 seconds (for the 90 second period)

These estimates contrasted with those who made up the non-BPD group who, on average, made the estimates shown below:

  • 18.1 seconds (for the 10 second period)
  • 47.8 seconds (for the 30 second period)
  • 83.9 seconds (for the 60 second period)
  • 124.2 seconds (for the 90 second period)

All participants then had their TIME PRODUCTION RATIO calculated: The time production ratio + perceived time interval divided by actual time interval).

On average, those in the borderline personality disorder (BPD) group appeared to perceived each of the four time periods as taking less time to pass THAN DID THE AVERAGE INDIVIDUAL IN THE NON-BPD GROUP i.e. BPD sufferers, on average, had lower TIME PRODUCTION RATIOS. (However, both groups, on average, gave over-estimates and individuals with BPD, on average, appeared to perceive the pace of the passing of time more accurately than did those individuals, on average, in the non-BPD group.

IMPULSIVITY

Both the BPD group and the non-BPD group were also assessed for how impulsive they were, including by the use of a self-report impulsivity questionnaire.

The researchers suggested that the BPD individuals’ apparent faster (compared to the non-BPD individuals’) time perception may reflect a faster cognitive pace or, alternatively, the results may reflect impatience amongst the BPD group and a desire to get the experiment over with (thus estimating that all of the 4 time periods had passed more quickly compared to non-BPD groups’ estimates. Hence I have been careful, in this article, to say only that individuals with BPD can only be said to appear to have a faster perception of time, based upon the results of this study. However, if it is the case that impulsive BPD sufferers do have a subjective sense of time passing faster (than do non-impulsive individuals) the researchers suggested that there may be a link between how fast one’s sense of passing time is and one’s impulsivity. In short, the hypothesis is that FASTER SUBJECTIVE SENSE OF PASSING TIME = A HIGHER LEVEL OF IMPULSIVITY.

ORBITOFRONTAL CORTEX DAMAGE AND ITS LINK TO TIME PERCEPTION DEFICITS AND IMPULSIVITY

The researchers also point out that other research has shown that those who have damage to the part of the brain known as the orbitofrontal cortex have also been shown to have both time perception impairments and a heightened level of impulsivity (Berlin et al., 2004) and found, from the present study and by the means of a questionnaire, that BPD sufferers have more behaviours in common with individuals with this kind of brain damage than do ‘normal’, non-BPD individuals.

Indeed, there was a high correlation between the scores of individuals on questionnaires designed to measure characteristics of people with orbitofrontal cortex damage and questionnaires designed to measure characteristics associated with BPD.

From the above, the researchers concluded that some characteristics of BPD may be associated with problems relating to damage to the orbitofrontal cortex.

OTHER FINDINGS FROM THE STUDY INDICATING PERSONALITY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BPD SUFFERERS AND ‘NORMAL’, NON-BPD SUFFERERS

COMPARED TO ‘NORMALS’, BPD INDIVIDUALS WERE FOUND TO BE LESS:

  • conscientious
  • extraverted
  • open to experience
  • motivated to achieve
  • energetic
  • sensitive to reward

BUT THEY WERE ALSO FOUND TO BE MORE:

  • impulsive
  • neurotic¬†
  • emotional

However, none of these nine characteristics was found to be associated with the speed of an individual’s subjective experience of time.

CONCLUSIONS THAT MAY BE DRAWN FROM THE ABOVE

The researchers drew several conclusions from the study and three of the main ones were as follows:

  • Impulsivity displayed by BPD sufferers may be linked to a ‘faster cognitive pace.’
  • Some characteristics of BPD may be associated problems relating to damage to the orbitofrontal cortex
  • Different symptoms of BPD may be separable and linked to different brain regions.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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