Histrionic Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.50 (F60.4)

Histrionic Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.50 (F60.4)

DSM-5 Category: Personality Disorder

Histrionic Personality Disorder

Histrionic Personality Disorder is a DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed.) diagnosis assigned to individuals who display patterns of attention-seeking, often dramatic behavior to gain the approval of others. This behavior may be flirtatious, emotional, seductive or otherwise in order to capture the attention of onlookers.


Long associated with the historical term hysteria - histrionic being a derivative - histrionic personality disorder is a mental condition characterized by over-the-top behavior, such as emotional outbursts, noisy displays of temper, compulsive attention seeking and self-centredness.

Sufferers of histrionic personality disorder may overreact and exaggerate, assume greater familiarity with others than actually exists, pay excessive attention to their appearance and display narcissistic qualities. A Cluster B personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder is closely related to other conditions within the bracket, such as borderline, antisocial, and narcissistic personality disorders.

Histrionic personality disorder affects an estimated one to three per cent of the American population1) and is more prevalent among women than men. The condition often results in distress for the sufferer and may adversely impact on social, occupational and other areas of life.


Symptoms of histrionic personality disorder include the following:

  • Shallow, changeable emotions
  • Assumed intimacy with others
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Disproportionate emotional reactions
  • Sexually provocative behavior
  • A compulsive desire for attention
  • Preoccupation with appearance
  • Suggestible and easily influenced

Diagnosis criteria for histrionic personality disorder

In order to make a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder, a psychological examination is necessary, along with a general evaluation of the patient’s behavior and overall appearance.

There is no set test to determine whether someone has histrionic personality disorder. Previously, a number of pointers were specified in an earlier edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in order to help clinicians make a diagnosis3). At least five of the following traits needed to be recorded for a diagnosis to be indicated:

  • A compulsion to be the center of attention that results in discomfort if unmet
  • Inappropriate sexual, seductive or provocative behavior when interacting with others
  • Shallow, rapidly shifting emotions
  • The use of physical appearance to draw others’ attention
  • Dramatic, impressionistic speech that lacks detail
  • Exaggerated, theatrical emotional expression
  • Easily influenced by others or situations
  • Assumes relationships are more intimate than they are

Unstructured or semi-structured interviews may also be carried out as part of the diagnostic process; these usually involve investigation into the patient’s concerns without a set series of questions, allowing for free-flowing conversation.

Often, an element of the diagnostic process is the self-report inventory, which usually takes the form of a short questionnaire designed to provide insight into the patient’s state of mind. The subject is required to answer questions pertaining to their lifestyle, symptoms, values and more, which are then assessed and scored by the healthcare professional to indicate the nature of the condition.

Causes of histrionic personality disorder

There is no single known cause of histrionic personality disorder but factors such as genetics and childhood experiences may play some part in the disorder’s development2). Links have been made between the development of personality disorders and the following factors:

Inherited personality traits Studies have determined a correlation between personality traits of extroversion, excitement-seeking and neuroticism and histrionic personality disorder, and there is significant research suggesting that these characteristics may be hereditary4) 5).

Parental influence During childhood, the role of primary caregivers is important in shaping a youngster’s personality; some theorists have put forth suggestions that dependency issues, conditional parental love and emotionally shallow parenting may be associated with the onset of histrionic personality disorder6) 7).

Antisocial personality disorder overlaps Histrionic personality disorder is thought to be closely related to antisocial personality disorder, with studies showing that individuals meeting the criteria for the former condition also meet similar criteria for the latter. Based on this finding, it could be inferred that the two disorders may stem from the same underlying cause; whether this is biological, environmental or otherwise is yet to be determined8).

Neurological factors Suggestions have been made that sufferers of personality disorders may have experienced childhood trauma, which could have affected the development and functioning of parts of the brain that deal with emotions, social functioning and self-control9). Research has also found that neurotransmitters - believed to contribute to emotion and impulse regulation - may be deficient among personality disorder sufferers.

The lack of a definitive cause for histrionic personality disorder allows for speculation that the condition could develop as a result of combined biological, psychological and social elements, rather than from a single specific cause9).


Histrionic personality disorder may present comorbid with other conditions, including:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Somatic symptom disorder
  • Conversion disorder


Other disorders may be diagnosed with personality disorders, such as anorexia nervosa10) and alcohol or substance misuse disorders11)

Living with histrionic personality disorder

Histrionic personality disorder is usually diagnosed when a sufferer is in their late teens or early twenties, when an individual’s personality is believed to have fully developed.

Many individuals suffering from histrionic personality disorder come across as charming, are able to function highly and achieve success in their occupation and in social circles. However, problems may be encountered in the sufferer’s personal life and romantic relationships.

People with histrionic personality disorder can struggle to deal with failure or loss, have difficulty overcoming the fallout of a failed relationship or find they become bored in their job quickly. Similarly, sufferers may crave new experiences and excitement, which can lead to risk-taking behavior. These factors may all increase the risk of depression2).


Individuals suffering from histrionic personality disorder may be unaware of their condition until they seek treatment for something else, such as depression or anxiety from a failed relationship. A diagnosis will often determine that the problems reported by the patient are the symptomatic results of histrionic personality disorder.

There is no cure for histrionic personality disorder but the following treatment approaches are often suggested:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

A talking therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy aims to change the way an individual thinks and behaves at the present and future time, rather than seeking to reconcile any underlying causes. CBT helps patients decode situations by assessing their thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and actions to become more mindful of how these elements are connected - and how they can be changed.

  • Functional analytic psychotherapy

To better understand and treat patterns of patients’ behavior, functional analytic psychotherapy may be advised. This kind of therapy seeks to identify interpersonal problems both in and out of sessions, in different contexts. In this way, the therapist can assess the patient’s behavior and provide a better tailored treatment programme.

  • Support groups

Sufferers of histrionic personality disorder may be able to find support at a specialist or general focus group for individuals with personality disorders. There are groups that meet in person at set times and places and groups based online, providing support for sufferers who cannot travel or who prefer less of a face-to-face approach.

  • Medication

Medication is not a solution for underlying causes of histrionic personality disorder, which cannot be fully determined; however, medication may be prescribed to help sufferers’ manage symptoms of the condition, such as depression or anxiety.

Although histrionic personality disorder may affect sufferers for life, therapy can be effective in helping individuals make positive behavioral changes that enable them to manage the condition.

Dr. Kevin Fleming obtained his PhD from Notre Dame and is the Founder of Grey Matters International (www.greymattersintl.com), a neuroscience-based behavior change consulting firm.


1) Mattia, J. I., & Zimmerman, M. (2001). Epidemiology. In W. J. Livesley (Ed.), Handbook of personality disorders: Theory, research, and treatment (pp. 107–123). New York: Guilford Press. Taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histrionic_personality_disorder#cite_note-Barlow-10
2) U.S. National Library of Medicine (2014) Histrionic Personality Disorder Date Accessed: 16/11/2016
3) American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (5th Edition). Washington, DC.
4) Bouchard & Lochlin (2001) Genes, Evolution and Personality Behavior Genetics Vol 31. No. 3. Taken from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephanie_Mullins-Sweatt/publication/257619932_Histrionic_personality_disorder_ 
5) Widiger & Trull (2007) Plate Tectonics in the Classification of Personality Disorder American Psychologist February - March 2007. Taken from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephanie_Mullins-Sweatt/publication/257619932_Histrionic_personality_disorder_Diagnostic 
6) Bienenfeld, David (2006). Personality DisordersMedscape Reference. WebMD. Retrieved 16 November 2016. Taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histrionic_personality_disorder#cite_note-Barlow-10
7) Bornstein, R.F. (1998). Dependency in the personality disorders: Intensity, insight, expression, and defense Journal of Clinical Psychology Taken from: https://mental-personality-disorders.knoji.com/histrionic-personality-disorder/
8) Barlow, H.D. & Durand, V.M. (2005). Personality Disorders. (pp.443–444). Abnormal Psychology: An Integrative Approach (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth. Taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Histrionic_personality_disorder
9) Emergence (2014) Causes of Personality Disorder http://www.emergenceplus.org.uk/what-is-personality-disorder/93-causes.html Accessed on: 16/11/2016
10) Paris, J. (1996) Social Factors in the Personality Disorders Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Taken from: http://www.emergenceplus.org.uk/what-is-personality-disorder/93-causes.html
10) American Psychiatric Association (2000) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV-TR (pp. 584-5) (4th Edition). Washington, DC. Taken from: http://samvak.tripod.com/personalitydisorders64.html
12) Verheul R, Van der Brink W, Hartgers C. (1995) Prevalence of personality disorders among alcoholics and drug addicts: an overview. Eur Addict Res. Taken from: https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/co-occurence-of-personality-disorders-continued/

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