After decades-long advances in genetics, brain imaging and neural and behavioral sciences, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Project in 2009. Its goal is to use advances in basic behavioral neuroscience to transform how mental health disorders are classified for research in the hope that such a system will lead to more accurate diagnoses and better treatments.

But classifying disorders in this way has proven difficult because of their inherent complexities and co-morbidities, says Angus MacDonald III, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, who is among the psychologists working to further develop the project. That work is the topic of a special section in the August Journal of Abnormal Psychology, co-edited by MacDonald and Robert Krueger, PhD, also of the University of Minnesota.

"We need to examine the ways in which this initiative moves us forward, but also examine the ways in which we need to strengthen it to allow us to do our science well," MacDonald says.

The special section articles include:

  • "Mapping the Country Within: A Special Section on Reconceptualizing the Classification of Mental Disorders," in which MacDonald and Krueger discuss rethinking the way mental disorders are classified.
  • "Classification and Psychopathology Research," which discusses the experiential nature of psychopathology and the risk of classifying it based on non-subjective criteria.
  • "A Construct-Network Approach to Bridging Diagnostic and Physiological Domains: Application to Assessment of Externalizing Psychopathology," which discusses an approach to classification that would connect clinical symptoms indexed by standard assessment methods — such as self-report — to neural activity indexed by neurological measures.
  • "Multilevel Models from Biology to Psychology: Mission Impossible?"which explores how bioinformatics may bolster a new classification system that integrates symptoms with science.
  • "Constructing Constructs for Psychopathology: The NIMH Research Domain Criteria,"which comments on the articles in the special section and provides new insights into RDoC's development.

See the journal's table of contents online.

— Robin Tricoles