Failure to Detect a Causal Effect of Childhood Abuse or Diathesis-Stress Interactions on Adult Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms: A Longitudinal Discordant Twin Design

Marina Bornovalova, University of South Florida
Brooke M. Huibregste
Brian M. Hicks
Margaret Keyes
Matt McGue
William Iacono


We used a longitudinal twin design to examine the causal association between sexual, emotional, and physical abuse in childhood (before age 18) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits at age 24 using a discordant twin design and biometric modeling. Additionally, we examined the mediating and moderating effects of symptoms of childhood externalizing and internalizing disorders on the link between childhood abuse and BPD traits. Although childhood abuse, BPD traits, and internalizing and externalizing symptoms were all correlated, the discordant twin analyses and biometric modeling showed little to no evidence that was consistent with a causal effect of childhood abuse on BPD traits. Instead, our results indicate that the association between childhood abuse and BPD traits stems from common genetic influences that, in some cases, also overlap with internalizing and externalizing disorders. These findings are inconsistent with the widely held assumption that childhood abuse causes BPD, and they suggest that BPD traits in adulthood are better accounted for by heritable vulnerabilities to internalizing and externalizing disorders.