Tracking Personality and Psychopathology Processes Over Time

In order to understand the mechanisms that drive individual differences in personality traits and links between personality and important life outcomes, we need to be able to adequately measure the processes that reflect those mechanisms. We design studies that leverage time for this purpose. These include studies of structured (i.e., change) and unstructured (i.e., instability) intraindividual variability over diverse time scales. In recent work we have shown that change in borderline personality pathology features dynamically tracks with domains of psychosocial functioning in adolescence (Wright, Zalewski, et al., 2016) as well as personality traits in adulthood (Wright et al., 2015).  We have also shown that borderline features predict instability in interpersonal problem style but stability in severity of interpersonal distress over the course of a year (Wright, Hallquist, et al., 2013; Wright, Scott, et al., 2015).  This confirms the clinical observation that individual with borderline features are consistently highly distressed but vary in their self-concept and behavior over time.  Currently we are investigating daily processes in personality pathology in a sample followed for 100 days using a daily dairy method (e.g., Wright, Hopwood, & Simms, 2015).  

Modeling Personality & Psychopathology Structure

Another major focus of the PPOl's program of research is studying the underlying structure of personality and psychopathology.  It is difficult to overstate the importance of developing accurate models for the underlying structure of our phenomena of interest.  Structure in this context refers to how the phenomena are distributed within and across individuals.  Structure should dictate how mental disorders are classified, diagnosed clinically, and studied in empirical investigations.  For instance, Recently, we have shown that the structure of mental disorders conforms to the well-established structure of personality traits (Wright & Simms, 2015).  This finding integrates prior work that has shown that mental disorders are best characterized by trans-diagnostic dimensions as opposed to discrete categories (e.g., Wright et al., 2013), and that the joint hierarchical structure of normative and maladaptive personality traits bears close conceptual resemblance to the latent structure of higher-order dimensions of psychopathology (Wright et al., 2012; Wright & Simms, 2014).  These findings join a large and growing body of research from affiliated colleagues (HiTOP Consortium) to suggest that personality and psychopathology can be integrated within a single statistical and conceptual model.  In ongoing investigations we are studying the association between hierarchical structural models of personality and serotonergic functioning and cardiometabolic risk (e.g., Dermody, Wright, et al., in press). 

Understanding Personality Interpersonally


A prominent focus of the lab's work involves the study of social processes, both as they manifest normatively across all individuals and in relation to psychopathology. Interpersonal dysfunction is the defining feature of personality disorders (e.g., Hopwood, Wright, Ansell, & Pincus, 2013), and is also broadly relevant for psychopathology more generally (Pincus & Wright, 2011). Thus, we use contemporary Interpersonal Theory of Personality as a lens through which to understand adaptive and maladaptive social processes. Contemporary interpersonal theory draws upon the broad domains of Agency (Dominance, Assertiveness, Power, Control) and Communion (Affiliation, Warmth, Connectedness, Nurturance) and the structural model of the Interpersonal Circumplex to provide an integrative framework for understanding social functioning (Hopwood, Pincus, & Wright, in press). In current projects we are studying interpersonal and affective functioning in narcissistic and borderline personality disorders in daily life, as well as momentary interpersonal behavior during conflict tasks in romantic couples using this framework.