Vakgroep Psychologie, Gezondheid & Technologie

Does alexithymia mediate the relationship between borderline personality pathology and non-suicidal self-injury?


-       Bachelor thesis, internal

-       1 or 2 students

-       Own data collection (within ‘general population’)

-       quantitative empirical study    



Emotional awareness plays a crucial role in emotion regulation. In order to regulate your emotions, an essential first step is to notice them - in time. Yet many people lack in emotional awareness. Studies show that around 10 percent of the population experiences great difficulties in timely noticing own emotions. These people often suffer from ‘alexithymia’. Low emotional awareness and alexithymia have been found to be associated with multiple mental disorders.  Self-harming behaviour or non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is prevalent among patients with personality disorders, especially when borderline personality pathology (BPP) is present. Next to the physical harm that is caused by the behaviour, NSSI is known to have a negative impact on self-esteem, personal relationships and social functioning in daily life. Clinical theory on borderline personality disorder states that NSSI serves as a mechanism to bring down unbearable levels of emotional distress. Despite the extensive amount of attention the topic of NSSI has received in both clinical theory and scientific research, the psychological mechanisms by which this behaviour operates with regard to BPP are not clear. Results of a recent meta-analysis showed that borderline personality pathology is associated with alexithymia and low levels of emotional awareness. Alexithymia is known to result in dysphoric states of undefined emotional distress. Many assume that alexithymia mediates the association between BPP and NSSI.


In this study you set out to investigate whether the association between self-harming behavior and BPP is actually mediated by alexithymia. The setting of the study is within the general population. So participants will be ‘non-patients’ (for example: students).


Who are we looking for?

We are looking for 1 or 2 motivated students who have a genuine interest in the topics of emotional awareness, alexithymia, and (clinical) personality psychology in general. Although proper guidance throughout your thesis will be offered, and you will be given a head start with some interesting literature and tons of suggestions for further reading, as well as a digital data-collection platform containing (most of) the questionnaires you will be using, we will be expecting a high level of autonomy.

We encourage you to come up with own ideas and welcome you to also formulate your own hypotheses. Basic knowledge on statistics (i.e. linear regression models, factor analysis, mediation analysis) is assumed present, so you can do (most of) the analyses without needing help.
As you will be collecting the data on your own, we’re looking for someone who knows how to set up a plan on how to collect the data (i.e. how will you get in contact with enough and the right type of potential participants for a representative sample, et cetera) – and of course: how get things done.



Youri Derks, MSc, health psychologist/PhD-student