ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (3): 258-270.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.00258

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Patterns of reinforcement sensitivity for non-suicidal self-injury in college students

YING Mengting; JIANG Guangrong; YU Lixia; LU Ting   

  1. (Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyberpsychology and Behavior (CCNU), Ministry of Education; School of Psychology, Central China Normal University; Key Laboratory of Human Development and Mental Health of Hubei Province, Wuhan 430079, China)
  • Received:2015-03-09 Published:2016-03-25 Online:2016-03-25
  • Contact: JIANG Guangrong, E-mail:


Reinforcement sensitity, as an important personality trait, affects individual’s emotional, motivational and behavioral process, especially relates to emotion reactivity. Numerous studies have demonstrated that two dimensions of reinforcement sensitivity—BIS sensitivity and BAS sensitivity—exhibit strong associations with emotion management difficulties, which are considered as main characteristics of non-suicidal self-injury. Individuals at the far poles of BIS and BAS dimensions are at increased risk for developing various types of psychopathology, some of which have high correlations with non-suicidal self-injury. In order to investigate the relation between reinforcement sensitivity and non-suicidal self-injury, two studies were conducted.
Study 1 examined the associations between dimensions of reinforcement sensitivity and non-suicidal self-injury by using self-report measures. The BIS/BAS Scales and the Chinese version of Self-Harm Inventory were used to assess reinforcement sensitivity and non-suicidal self-injury, respectively. Data were collected among 717 college students and were analyzed using ordinal logistic regression. Results showed that BIS/BAS sensitivity significantly predicted non-suicidal self-injury. As to BAS sensitivity, BAS-FunSeeking was the only dimension that contributed to non-suicidal self-injury.
On the basis of Study 1, Study 2 further explored different patterns of BIS/BAS sensitivity between people who engaged in non-suicidal self-injury for two different purposes. The Q-TASK and the CARROT were used as two behavioral measures of BIS sensitivity and BAS sensitivity, respectively. Two groups of self-injurers (emotion managing vs. novelty seeking) as well as one control group participated in two experiments. Data obtained from 127 participants were analyzed by MANOVA. The Findings indicated that there were different patterns of reinforcement sensitivity for non-suicidal self-injury with different functions. Participants who conducted self-injurious behaviors to manage their own feelings or emotions were characterized by high BIS sensitivity and average BAS sensitivity, whereas participants who engaged in non-suicidal self-injury for seeking novelty were characterized by high BAS sensitivity and average BIS sensitivity.

In summary, reinforcement sensitivity was a significant predictor of non-suicidal self-injury. It can be hoped that therapeutic interventions for self-injurers based on their patterns of BIS/BAS sensitivity will be designed and proposed before long. More importantly, the different patterns of BIS/BAS sensitivity in self-injurers, which was found in Study 2, indicates different mechanisms behind non-suicidal self-injury. This may shed light on the inconsistent findings regarding non-suicidal self-injury so far. Participants are usually not classified into groups by different functions of their self-injurious behaviors, thus leading to a counteracting effect on potential associations. It is indicated that classification of non-suicidal self-injury is quite necessary and deserves future research attention.

Key words: non-suicidal self-injury, reinforcement sensitivity, functions of self-injury, classification of self-injury, college students