Implications of the Hierarchical Structure of Psychopathology for Psychiatric Neuroimaging

David H. Zald, Benjamin B. Lahey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Research into the neurobiological substrates of psychopathology has been impeded by heterogeneity within diagnostic categories, comorbidity among mental disorders, and the presence of symptoms that transcend diagnostic categories. Solutions to these issues increasingly focus neurobiological research on isolated or narrow groupings of symptoms or functional constructs rather than categorical diagnoses. We argue for a more integrative approach that also incorporates the broad hierarchical structure of psychopathological symptoms and their etiological mechanisms. This approach places clinical neuroscience research in the context of a hierarchy of empirically defined factors of symptoms, such as internalizing disorders, externalizing disorders, and the general factor of psychopathology. Application of this hierarchical approach has the potential to reveal neural substrates that nonspecifically contribute to multiple forms of psychopathology and their comorbidity and in doing so facilitate the study of mechanisms that are specific to single dimensions and subsets of symptoms. Neurobiological research on the hierarchy of dimensions of psychopathology is only just beginning to emerge but has the potential to radically alter our understanding of the neurobiology of abnormal behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-317
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry


  • Comorbidity
  • Externalizing
  • Internalizing
  • Research Domain Criteria
  • Transdiagnostic
  • fMRI


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