Over the past decades, psychiatrists and psychologists have been increasingly diagnosing patients with a personality disorder called borderline. They even call it “a personality disorder of our time.” Scientists from Lodz are trying to define the causes of the formation and the course of borderline. The interdisciplinary research team is led by dr hab. Monika Talarowska, professor at the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychopathology at the University of Lodz. The research team apart from psychologists, includes scientists from the Faculty of Biology, University of Lodz and the Medical University of Lodz.
Among characteristics of a borderline personality disorder, the most typical is the one that causes a strong desire to have a very close, almost exclusive relationship with another person. On the one hand, it is accompanied by a fear of being “absorbed” by that person, and on the other hand, by a fear of being abandoned by them. This emotional ambivalence leads to strong tensions, resulting in psychotic states (e.g., persecutory delusions), self-mutilation and even suicide attempts.
Scientists working on the project entitled “Early maladaptive schemas and selected biological personality correlates in the group of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder” want to investigate the relationship between psychological and biological variables that may be significant for the development and course of these disorders. The project obtained funding in the 2nd edition of the Initiative of Excellence – Research University, in the “Grants for young and experienced researchers” competition.
Scientists from Lodz plan to study the behaviour of oxytocin (a hormone) in people with borderline disorders – patients of the Department of Affective and Psychotic Disorders at the Medical University of Lodz, and demonstrate its relationship with the structure of their personality. Psychologists from the University of Lodz will evaluate the emotional functioning and personality structure using psychological tests, while genetic determinations will be carried out at the Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection, University of Lodz.
The presence of oxytocin and its receptors is observed in the brain structures that are important for establishing and maintaining social relationships. It plays an important role in shaping close ties with other people, which may be important in consolidating patterns typical of borderline disorders. The level of oxytocin is also closely related to the attitude towards seeking support and help from others, as well as the ability to use the offered help.
The conclusion drawn from this research about the relationship between human personality and bodily functioning, which is manifested by the so-called gene expression, would also be an important element in the discussion on the biological, genetic basis of the human psyche.
We inherit from our ancestors not only the colour of our eyes or the susceptibility to diseases. The latest research proves that they can also pass on to us emotional hypersensitivity to seemingly indifferent stimuli, mainly susceptibility to anxiety reactions, increased impulsiveness or sadness. Epigenetic mechanisms are responsible for this – explains dr Monika Talarowska, prof. UL.
Epigenetics assesses the influence of environmental factors on the correction of gene expression, i.e. the functioning of genes, despite the lack of changes in DNA. This happens so, for the body to be able to adapt quickly to changes in the environment and not to have to use the extremely slow method of gene mutations. For example, early childhood experiences, which are accompanied by strong stressors, i.e., experienced difficult situations, are related to changes in gene expression.
Researchers ask themselves the following questions: Can experiences unique to every human being, the course of development and gene-environment interactions, through epigenetic mechanisms, shape the features of our personality? Can these features be passed on to future generations, and therefore, is the risk of personality disorders in our biological nature?
The results of the research by scientists from Lodz will help find the answers. They will allow us to learn more about the factors that influence the formation and course of borderline personality disorders, and they will help plan psychotherapeutic activities. Researchers also hope that the research will make it possible to plan early interventions addressed to young people with developing borderline personality traits.
The most important thing for us is to reach the patients struggling with this personality disorder with the research results – summarizes dr Monika Talarowska, prof. UL
The interdisciplinary team working on the project also includes: dr hab. Jan Chodkiewicz, prof. UL, a psychologist specializing in clinical and health psychology, prof. Tomasz Popławski from the Department of Molecular Genetics, Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection, University of Lodz and dr hab. n. med. Dominik Strzelecki, prof. Medical University of Lodz, head of the Department of Affective and Psychotic Disorders at the Medical University of Lodz.
What are UL IDUB grants?
The Excellence Initiative – Research University are grant competitions under which the University of Lodz funds research ideas of its scientists and doctoral students. By supporting them in practicing quality science, the University implements a strategy of striving for research excellence in all fields and disciplines. The competitions also serve the purpose of internationalisation – developing and strengthening the University’s cooperation with international researchers. As part of grants addressed to scientists from outside the University, experienced and young researchers join the UL team. This favours the fusion of experiences and increasing the University’s scientific potential, supports networking and employee mobility.
The grants are financed as part of the subsidy increased by 2% for the universities that joined the IDUB competition in 2019. University of Lodz will receive additional funding for research until 2026. Internal grant competitions have been implemented since 2020.
Source: prof. Monika Talarowska, Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Lodz; Edit: Honorata Ogieniewska, Promotion Centre of the University of Lodz.