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Developing constructs for psychopathology research: research domain criteria.

Sanislow CA, Pine DS, Quinn KJ, Kozak MJ, Garvey MA, Heinssen RK, Wang PS, Cuthbert BN
Journal of abnormal psychology


There exists a divide between findings from integrative neuroscience and clinical research focused on mechanisms of psychopathology. Specifically, a clear correspondence does not emerge between clusters of complex clinical symptoms and dysregulated neurobiological systems, with many apparent redundancies. For instance, many mental disorders involve multiple disruptions in putative mechanistic factors (e.g., excessive fear, deficient impulse control), and different disrupted mechanisms appear to play major roles in many disorders. The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework is a heuristic to facilitate the incorporation of behavioral neuroscience in the study of psychopathology. Such integration might be achieved by shifting the central research focus of the field away from clinical description to more squarely examine aberrant mechanisms. RDoC first aims to identify reliable and valid psychological and biological mechanisms and their disruptions, with an eventual goal of understanding how anomalies in these mechanisms drive psychiatric symptoms. This approach will require new methods to ascertain samples, relying on hypothesized psychopathological mechanisms to define experimental groups instead of traditional diagnostic categories. RDoC, by design, uncouples research efforts from clinically familiar categories to focus directly on fundamental mechanisms of psychopathology. RDoC proposes a matrix of domains and levels of analyses and invites the field to test and refine the framework. If RDoC is successful, the domains will ultimately relate to familiar psychopathologies in ways that promote new knowledge regarding etiology and more efficient development of new preventive and treatment interventions.

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