ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (10): 1724-1739.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.01724

• Research Method • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Psychopathological network theory, methods and challenges

CHEN Chen, WANG Li(), CAO Chengqi, LI Gen   

  1. Laboratory for Traumatic Stress Studies, CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2021-03-30 Online:2021-10-15 Published:2021-08-23
  • Contact: WANG Li


As for the conceptualization of mental disorders, the traditional DSM-ICD classification diagnostic system, i.e., Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM) and International Classification of Diseases(ICD), as well as the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) proposed by National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH) are both based on the latent variable perspective, assuming that the symptoms of mental disorders have an underlying common cause(the disorder entity or dysfunction in different potential dimensions). However, such latent variable perspective requires local independency between variables, thus both views ignore the interaction between symptoms. In 2008, Borsboom put forward the psychopathological network theory, a new perspective different from the categorical and dimensional views of the conceptualization of mental disorders. This theory focuses on the interaction between symptoms, assuming that mental disorders are directly composed of symptoms and dynamic causal relationship between them. Based on this theory, network methods mainly estimate the partial correlation network of symptoms using the glasso algorithm with EBIC, and examine the different characteristics of mental disorder symptoms using indicators such as node centrality and network connectivity. In recent years, many new network models have emerged, such as Bayesian networks and relative importance networks that can perform causality inferences. With the increasing number of studies that applied psychopathological network theory and methods, this theory and method has clearly become one of the mainstream research theories and methods in the field of current mental health and psychopathological and psychometrics related research. But at the same time, researchers also found some remaining challenges for psychopathological network methods with respect to causality inference of symptoms, identification of central symptoms, and also reliability and replicability of network structures. Accordingly, this review briefly introduced the core idea and basic principles of psychopathology network theory, as well as the most commonly used psychopathology network analysis methods so far, and summarized important applications and values of psychopathology network theory and methods, then synthesized the main challenges that psychopathological network analysis method were currently facing. Finally, corresponding possible solutions were proposed. After reviewing a wide range of related publishments in theories, methods, and empirical since psychopathology network theory was put forward, we provided unique insights into the possible agendas for future research on psychopathological network methods, hoping the challenges and progress in the methodology could also bring new opportunities for the further improvement of psychopathological network theory.

Key words: psychopathology, network theory, network analysis, symptom network, central symptom, mental disorder, GGM

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