Certain areas of the brain are known to be affected in people who are emotionally unstable and diagnosed with a personality disorder. Scientists at the Karolinska Institutet have now established that these affected areas – that differ in patients with a clinical diagnosis – are also affected in healthy individuals.

Emotional Expression

Every individual exhibits emotions differently. Whether it is happiness, sadness or anger, everyone has their own way of expressing. This is a normal aspect of personality and differentiates individuals from one another. However, certain people cannot regulate their emotions effectively, which adversely affects their social life as well as overall functionality and performance. These individuals are usually labeled as being ‘emotionally unstable’ and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder.

Previous studies have demonstrated that certain areas of the brain are decreased in volume among individuals diagnosed with an emotional instability disorder. For this study, researchers investigated whether these areas were involved in regulating emotional expression amongst healthy individuals.

Proving A Point

A clinical questionnaire was administered on 87 healthy individuals, in which they were asked to rate the degree of their problems with regulating everyday emotions. Brain scans of the subjects were then takes via MRI. Scientists observed that an area in the lower frontal lobe – the orbitofrontal cortex – showed a significant decrease in volume amongst people who reportedly had problems regulating their emotions. Moreover, the greater the problem, the smaller the volume detected.

This precise area has a smaller volume in patients diagnosed with antisocial personality disorders and borderline personality disorders. Furthermore, similar findings were seen in other areas of the brain that play a vital role in regulating emotional expression.

Importance Of The Findings

“The results support the idea that there is a continuum in our ability to regulate emotions. If you are at the extreme end of the spectrum, you are likely to experience problems with functioning in the society. This then leads to a psychiatric diagnosis”, explained Associate Professor and first author Predrag Petrovic, who is also a researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.

Professor Petrovic added that these results also highlight the non-categorical nature of personality disorders. He stated that these disorders should be seen as extreme variants in normal behavior, and not merely as a natural variability in the population.