Borderline personality features predict empathy for animals but not for children
Keywords:empathy, attachment, borderline, animals, distress
Although empathy is not a defining feature of borderline personality disorder, there is a growing body of work suggesting deficits in some components of empathy toward humans. There is no research investigating the link between borderline personality features (BPF) and empathy toward animals, which may be less threatening to individuals that struggle in interpersonal relationships and fear rejection. We examined BPF and self-reported distress and viewing times of photographs depicting dogs and children in twelve adverse circumstances in a college student sample (N = 464) with trait empathy as a mediator in Study 1. BPF predicted distress to dog but not child photos. There were significant indirect effects of BPF on distress to dog and child photos through personal distress. In Study 2 (N = 524), we further examined the processes underlying these associations by modelling a serial mediation of BPF with distress to dog and child photos through anxious and avoidant attachment to trait empathy toward animals and humans. We replicated the finding that BPF predicted distress to dog but not child photos. BPF predicted both anxious and avoidant attachment styles, which negatively predicted empathy for humans and animals. Empathy for humans mediated the associations with distress for child photos whereas empathy for animals mediated the associations with distress for dog photos. Further research is needed to determine the causal pathways between BPF, attachment, and empathy to animals and humans.
Copyright (c) 2023 Jennifer Vonk, Jacob Pappas
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