The p factor: One general psychopathology factor in the structure of psychiatric disorders?

Avshalom Caspi, Renate M. Houts, Daniel W. Belsky, Sidra J. Goldman-Mellor, Honalee Harrington, Salomon Israel, Madeline H. Meier, Sandhya Ramrakha, Idan Shalev, Richie Poulton, Terrie E. Moffitt

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Abstract

Mental disorders traditionally have been viewed as distinct, episodic, and categorical conditions. This view has been challenged by evidence that many disorders are sequentially comorbid, recurrent/chronic, and exist on a continuum. Using the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, we examined the structure of psychopathology, taking into account dimensionality, persistence, co-occurrence, and sequential comorbidity of mental disorders across 20 years, from adolescence to midlife. Psychiatric disorders were initially explained by three higher-order factors (Internalizing, Externalizing, and Thought Disorder) but explained even better with one General Psychopathology dimension. We have called this dimension the p factor because it conceptually parallels a familiar dimension in psychological science: the g factor of general intelligence. Higher p scores are associated with more life impairment, greater familiality, worse developmental histories, and more compromised early-life brain function. The p factor explains why it is challenging to find causes, consequences, biomarkers, and treatments with specificity to individual mental disorders. Transdiagnostic approaches may improve research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-137
Number of pages19
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Volume2
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

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All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology

Cite this

Caspi, A., Houts, R. M., Belsky, D. W., Goldman-Mellor, S. J., Harrington, H., Israel, S., Meier, M. H., Ramrakha, S., Shalev, I., Poulton, R., & Moffitt, T. E. (2014). The p factor: One general psychopathology factor in the structure of psychiatric disorders? Clinical Psychological Science, 2(2), 119-137. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702613497473