Development and Psychopathology


Personality disorder and the mental representation of early social experience

Matthew Patricka1 c1, R. Peter Hobsona1, David Castlea2, Robert Howarda2 and Barbara Maughana2

a1 Developmental Psychopathology Research Unit, Tavistock Clinic, London

a2 Institute of Psychiatry, London


Controversy surrounds the role of early social experience in the development of personality disorder. In particular, little is known of the means by which continuities from infancy through adulthood might be mediated. One suggestion is that a person's mental representations of relations between him- or herself and other people, either in the form of “internal working models” or “internal object relations,” provide the essential link. We report on an investigation of this issue in which we focused on the formal qualities of accounts of childhood offered by adults who were drawn from two contrasting clinical groups; borderline personality disorder and dysthymia. The results lend support to the claims made by attachment theory and the object relations school of psychoanalysis, that at least in certain groups of individuals, adults' modes of representing early experience are intimately related to styles of interpersonal functioning. More specifically, the form of interpersonal Psychopathology characteristic of borderline personality disorder may be associated with enmeshed and unresolved patterns of responding to the Adult Attachment Interview of George, Kaplan, and Main (1985) and with reports of low maternal care and high maternal overprotection on the Parental Bonding Instrument of Parker, Tupling, and Brown (1979).


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Dr. Matthew Patrick and Professor R. Peter Hobson, DPRU, Tavistock Clinic, 120 Belsize Lane, London NW3 5BA, England.