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Differential empathy for psychological and physical pain in borderline personality disorder

12 October 2016, Macquarie University, Sydney

As part of Mental Health Month, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and Its Disorders (CCD) is proud to host this public lecture from Professor Martin Brüne. Brüne has been an active member of the CCD Scientific Committee since 2011. His role within the CCD has recently changed with Brüne stepping down from the CCD Scientific Committee to accept the nomination to become a Partner Investigator of the Centre, working particularly with the Belief Formation Program.


  • Professor Martin Brüne - LWL University Hospital, Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Preventative Medicine, Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, Germany


  • Australian Hearing Hub, Level 3, Room 3.610


Date and Time

  • 12th October, 2:30pm - 4:00pm


Attendance is free but registration is essential.

  • Registration has closed


Professor Martin Brüne is an eminent clinician-researcher, who completed his clinical training in neurology in 1993 and in psychiatry in 1995. He has been an active researcher for well over 20 years, maintaining strong links with Australian researchers, including a research fellowship at the "Centre of Mind", Australia, and his subsequent involvement with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and Its Disorders.

His main research interests concern various aspects of social cognition, in particular in psychoses and personality disorders. He co-edited the book "The social brain: Evolution and pathology" in 2003, and current research includes analyses of the association of social cognition with social function, as well as nonverbal behaviour, the role of oxytocin and treatment outcome in borderline personality disorder.

Brüne also has longstanding interest in the evolutionary aspects of psychiatric disorders, and he is the author of the recent "Textbook of evolutionary psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine", 2nd edn., published by OUP in 2015.


Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) experience difficulties in empathizing with others and are sensitive to social exclusion. To examine whether or not BPD patients respond differently to physical and psychological pain observed in others, we developed a novel 'Social Interaction Empathy Task'. Alexithymia was also measured. Patients with BPD rated neutral and psychologically painful situations as more painful than healthy controls, whereby psychological pain was rated as more intense in the first-person perspective compared to the third-person perspective. In contrast, controls did not differentiate between the perspectives and rated physical pain as most intense. The impact of early adversity on empathy for psychological pain was mediated by alexithymia. Increased sensitivity for psychological pain in BPD correlated with symptom severity. BPD is associated with altered empathy-for-pain, which is related to difficulties in reflecting emotional states.


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