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Clin Psychol Sci. 2014 Mar;2(2):119-137.

The p Factor: One General Psychopathology Factor in the Structure of Psychiatric Disorders?

Author information

1
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University ; Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Duke University ; Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center ; Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London.
2
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University.
3
Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Duke University Medical Center.
4
Center for Developmental Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
5
Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, Department, of Preventive and Social Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Otago.

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.

KEYWORDS:

DSM; developmental psychopathology; psychiatric epidemiology

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