Hypermentalizing in adolescent inpatients: treatment effects and association with borderline traits.

Journal of personality disorders

PubMedID: 23342954

Sharp C, Ha C, Carbone C, Kim S, Perry K, Williams L, Fonagy P. Hypermentalizing in adolescent inpatients: treatment effects and association with borderline traits. J Pers Disord. 2013;27(1):3-18.
Sharp et al. (2011) recently demonstrated that in adolescents with borderline traits the loss of mentalization is more apparent in the emergence of unusual alternative strategies (excessive theory of mind or hypermentalizing) than in the loss of the capacity per se (no mentalizing or undermentalizing). This suggests that hypermentalizing could be a worthwhile social-cognitive treatment target in adolescents with borderline traits. The aim of the current study was to examine (1) whether a reduction in excessive theory of mind or hypermentalizing is achieved between admission and discharge for adolescent inpatients; (2) whether the hypothesized reduction is more apparent in adolescents meeting criteria for BPD compared with psychiatric controls; and (3) whether other forms of mentalizing would also be sensitive to and malleable by inpatient treatment in the same way we expected hypermentalizing to be. The "Movie for the Assessment of Social Cognition" Task (Dziobek et al., 2006) was administered to consecutive admissions to an adolescent inpatient setting (n = 164) at admission and discharge, alongside measures of borderline symptomology and interview-based diagnosis of BPD. Results demonstrated that 41% (n = 68) of the sample met full or intermediate criteria for BPD on an interview-based measure of BPD. A relation between borderline traits and hypermentalizing that appears to be independent of internalizing and externalizing problems was demonstrated. Hypermentalizing, but not other forms of social-cognitive reasoning (as measured by the Child Eyes Test, Basic Empathy Scale and the Mentalizing Stories Test for Adolescents), was found to be malleable through a milieu-based inpatient treatment. Clinical implications of the findings for the organization of treatment settings for adolescents are discussed.