Behavioral models of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI) propose that experiencing desirable consequences following NSSI reinforces the behavior. However, these models do not specify whether experiencing more desirable consequences relative to other people (between-person), an individual’s own average (within-person), or both, predicts NSSI severity. To address this gap, this study investigated the prospective, within- and between-person associations of desirable NSSI consequences with NSSI frequency (number of episodes) and versatility (number of methods).
Two hundred and ten individuals (93.81% female, Mage = 22.95) with a history of NSSI completed online surveys assessing NSSI consequences, frequency, and versatility every three months for one year.
Within-person increases in desirable emotional consequences were unrelated to NSSI frequency three months later but predicted increases in NSSI versatility. Within-person increases in desirable social consequences predicted decreases in NSSI frequency three months later but were unrelated to NSSI versatility. Between-person variability in desirable consequences was unrelated to NSSI severity.
Findings were partially consistent with behavioral models of NSSI. Going forward, we recommend that: (1) behavioral models articulate the salience of within-person fluctuations in consequences; (2) research clarifies the role of social consequences; and (3) clinicians use repeated assessments of emotional consequences to identify periods of elevated NSSI risk.