Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Cynthia Erdley

Second Committee Member

Emily A. P. Haigh

Third Committee Member

Mollie A. Ruben

Additional Committee Members

Shawn W. Ell

Rebecca K. MacAulay


Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI; e.g., harming oneself without the intent to die) is a leading health concern, and research indicates rates of NSSI are increasing. Despite the clear negative implications of NSSI, mechanisms that reinforce the continual engagement in these behaviors remain unclear. The Benefits and Barriers Model (Hooley & Franklin, 2017) proposes there are barriers that prevent most individuals from engaging in these deleterious behaviors; however, once these barriers are eroded, one becomes more likely to engage in NSSI. One such barrier is a positive association with the self. Self-criticism is generally understood as a trait lowering desire to avoid pain and bodily harm, thus decreasing the barrier of a positive self-view. Although a growing body of research supports self-criticism as an important construct in the understanding of self-harm, research is needed to clarify the role of trait versus state self-criticism in the initiation and maintenance of NSSI.

The central aim of this study was to clarify the differential role of trait versus state self-criticism in the potential benefits and barriers to non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). Participants (N = 168, ages 18-25) included individuals with (n = 78, 87.2% female) and without (n = 90, 57.8% female) histories of NSSI. These older adolescents participated in an online session in which they responded to self-report questionnaires that assessed trait self-criticism, depressive symptoms, and perceived benefits of NSSI and completed a self-injury implicit association task. Afterwards, they underwent an induction designed to elicit feelings of state self-criticism. They then again did the implicit association task and responded to questions regarding the perceived benefits of NSSI. Levels of state self-criticism were measured throughout their participation. Before ending their online session, all participants underwent a positive mood induction.

Results suggest individuals with recent (past year) histories of NSSI are more reactive to state changes in self-criticism than those with past or no history of NSSI. Participants who were reactive to changes in state self-criticism evidenced a reduction in the barriers to NSSI assessed by implicit association tasks and increases in perceived benefits above and beyond trait self-criticism. Implications for treatment are discussed.