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EUPD Cyberball


Twenty people with borderline personality disorder were recruited from outpatient and support services from around Edinburgh, Scotland. Diagnoses were confirmed using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID-II). Current symptoms were assessed using the Zanarini Rating Scale for Borderline Personality Disorder (ZAN-BPD). Adverse childhood events were assessed using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). Fifteen BPD participants were receiving antidepressant medication and twelve were taking antipsychotic medication. Twenty age- and sex-matched controls were recruited from the community, however four were excluded due to technical issues during scanning, leaving sixteen controls. Exclusion criteria for all participants included pregnancy, MRI contraindications, diagnosis of a psychotic disorder, previous head injury or current illicit substance dependence. Controls met the additional criteria of no personal or familial history of major mental illness. Ethical approval was obtained from the Lothian National Health Service Research Ethics Committee, and all participants provided written informed consent before taking part.

Experimental task

Participants performed the Cyberball social exclusion task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), adapted from a previous implementation by Kumar et al 2009. The task involves playing “catch” with two computer-controlled players, during which the participant can be systematically included or excluded from the game. We used this task as it assesses neural responses to social exclusion, is known to activate a range of social brain regions and is amenable to reinforcement learning modelling. The task was modified such that inclusion was varied parametrically over four levels: 0%, 33%, 66% and 100%, achieved by arranging the task into blocks of nine throws, respectively involving zero, one, two or three throws to the participant. Here, 100% inclusion means the degree to which the participant was included was equal to that of the other two players, with each receiving three throws per nine-throw block. Participants were asked to imagine that the other players were real, as exclusion by both human or simulated players has been previously reported to be similarly distressing. When the participant received the ball, they indicated which computer player they wished to throw the ball to with a button press. There were four repetitions of each inclusion level, providing 16 experimental blocks in total, with the first block being 100% inclusion, and all subsequent blocks being randomised. Each throwing event had a mean duration of 2700ms, with each being preceded by randomised jitter that was in part adjusted to accommodate the participant’s reaction time from the previous trial, when applicable. This was achieved by comparing the total duration of the previous trial, including reaction time, with the ideal trial time of 2700ms: if this value was exceeded, a random jitter between 0 and 1000ms was subtracted from the mean jitter time of 1500ms; otherwise, the random jitter was added to 1500ms. Jitter therefore varied between 500ms and 2500ms. Mean block duration was 24s, with onsets denoted by the appearance of the cartoon figures following rest, and offsets by the conclusion of the final throw animation. Blocks were randomized, and interleaved with 13s rest blocks. Within blocks, throwing events were jittered to permit event disambiguation for reinforcement learning analysis.


001 cyberball task


  • Jeremy Hall
  • Douglas Steele
  • Katie Nicol
  • Merrick Pope
  • Liana Romaniuk

Contact Information:

Name: Liana Romaniuk

Acknowledgements and Funding:

The current study was supported by a Scottish Senior Clinical Fellowship to JH (SCD/10). We thank Stephen Giles for data curation and analysis support. We thank all the participants for their efforts in taking part.

External Publication Links:

Neural correlates of fears of abandonment and rejection in borderline personality disorder [version 1; referees: awaiting peer review]

Sample Size:


Scanner Type:

3T Siemens Magnetom Verio scanner



Accession Number:


How to cite this dataset:

In addition to any citation requirements in the dataset summary please use the following to cite this dataset:

This data was obtained from the OpenfMRI database. Its accession number is ds000214



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Revision: 1.0.0 Date Set: Jan. 21, 2017, 6:35 p.m.


- Initial release