RDoC: A Scientific Model for Understanding Mental Disorders

RDoC: A Scientific Model for Understanding Mental Disorders

Learn about the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), the National Institute of Mental Health’s initiative aimed at reshaping mental health research.

The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), an initiative by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), aims to reframe mental health research. The initiative supports research that cuts across traditional diagnostic categories to identify relationships among observable behavior, neurobiological measures, and patient self-report of mental status.

RDoC is not a diagnostic tool akin to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases. RDoC arose out of concerns that basing clinical research on symptom-based categories may be hampering attempts to understand the etiology and mechanisms of mental-health disorders. It offers an alternative approach to conceptualizing research questions on psychopathology as informed by modern behavioral neuroscience. The concept is to base the research upon normal behavior/cognitive functions (such as fear, reward, or cognitive control) and consider specific symptoms in terms of dysregulation in these basic systems.

The RDoC framework accordingly organizes research investigating mental health into five main functional domains (negative valence systems, positive valence systems, cognitive systems, social processes, and arousal and regulatory systems), each of which includes various constructs and subconstructs. One or more constructs can be studied across seven units of analysis (e.g., molecules, circuits, behavior) with the goal of increasing understanding of the processes underlying mental illness.

Reference List

Below is a list of selected articles in the scientific literature on RDoC.

Selected Commentaries

Carcone, D., & Ruocco, A. C. (2017). Six years of research on the National Institute of Mental Health’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Initiative: A systematic review. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncel.2017.00046

Clark, L. A., Cuthbert, B., Lewis-Fernández, R., Narrow, W. E., & Reed, G. M. (2017). Three approaches to understanding and classifying mental disorder: ICD-11, DSM-5, and the National Institute of Mental Health’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 18(2), 72-145. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100617727266

Doherty, J. L., & Owen, M. J. (2014). The Research Domain Criteria: Moving the goalposts to change the game. British Journal of Psychiatry, 204, 171-173. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.113.133330

Elvevåg, B., Cohen, A. S., Wolters, M. K., Whalley, H. C., Gountouna, V. E., Kuznetsova, K. A., … & Nicodemus, K. K. (2016). An examination of the language construct in NIMH’s research domain criteria: Time for reconceptualization! American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics171(6), 904-919. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajmg.b.32438

Kelly, J. R., Clarke, G., Cryan, J. F., & Dinan, T. G. (2017). Dimensional thinking in psychiatry in the era of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1017/ipm.2017.7

Shankman, S. A., & Gorka, S. M. (2015). Psychopathology research in the RDoC era: Unanswered questions and the importance of the psychophysiological unit of analysis. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 98(2), 330-337. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2015.01.001

Shepard, P. D. (2014). Basic science, RDoC, and Schizophrenia Bulletin. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 40(4), 717–718. https://doi.org/10.1093%2Fschbul%2Fsbu077

Yee, C. M., Javitt, D. C., & Miller, G. A. (2015). Replacing DSM categorical analyses with dimensional analyses in psychiatry research: The Research Domain Criteria Initiative. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(12), 1159-1160. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.1900


Selected NIMH-authored Papers

Cuthbert, B. N. (2015). Research Domain Criteria: Toward future psychiatric nosologiesDialogues in Clinical Neuroscience17(1), 89.

Kozak, M. J., & Cuthbert, B. N. (2016). The NIMH Research Domain Criteria Initiative: Background, issues, and pragmatics. Psychophysiology53(3), 286-297. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.12518


Selected Papers on Computational Approaches to Psychopathology

Holroyd, C. B., & Umemoto, A. (2016). The Research Domain Criteria framework: The case for anterior cingulate cortexNeuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews71, 418-443. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.09.021

Huys, Q. J., Maia, T. V., & Frank, M. J. (2016). Computational psychiatry as a bridge from neuroscience to clinical applications. Nature Neuroscience19(3), 404-413. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.4238

Van Dam, N. T., O’Connor, D., Marcelle, E. T., Ho, E. J., Craddock, R. C., Tobe, R. H., … & Milham, M. P. (2017). Data-driven phenotypic categorization for neurobiological analyses: Beyond DSM-5 labels. Biological Psychiatry81(6), 484-494. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.06.027

Wiecki, T. V., Poland, J., & Frank, M. J. (2015). Model-based cognitive neuroscience approaches to computational psychiatry: clustering and classification. Clinical Psychological Science, 3, 378-399, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2167702614565359.


Selected Papers on Translational Research, Developmental Emphasis

Hennessey, T., Andari, E., & Rainnie, D. G. (2018). RDoC-based categorization of amygdala functions and its implications in autism. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 90, 115-129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.04.007

Luking, K. R., Pagliaccio, D., Luby, J. L., & Barch, D. M. (2016). Reward processing and risk for depression across development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(6), 456-468. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2016.04.002

Solomon, M., & Di Martino, A. (2017). Increasing traction for discovery: The Research Domain Criteria framework and neurodevelopmental disorders. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 2(6), 458-460. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.06.027

Sukhodolsky, D. G., Wyk, B. C. V., Eilbott, J. A., McCauley, S. A., Ibrahim, K., Crowley, M. J., & Pelphrey, K. A. (2016). Neural mechanisms of cognitive-behavioral therapy for aggression in children and adolescents: Design of a randomized controlled trial within the National Institute for Mental Health Research Domain Criteria construct of frustrative non-reward. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology26(1), 38-48. https://doi.org/10.1089/cap.2015.0164

Weinberg, A., Meyer, A., Hale‐Rude, E., Perlman, G., Kotov, R., Klein, D. N., & Hajcak, G. (2016). Error‐related negativity (ERN) and sustained threat: Conceptual framework and empirical evaluation in an adolescent sample. Psychophysiology53(3), 372-385. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.12538


Selected Papers on Translational Research, Adult Emphasis

Ford, J. M. (2016). Studying auditory verbal hallucinations using the RDoC framework. Psychophysiology53(3), 298-304. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.12457

Jauhar, S., Nour, M. M., Veronese, M., Rogdaki, M., Bonoldi, I., Azis, M., … & Howes, O. D. (2017). A test of the transdiagnostic dopamine hypothesis of psychosis using positron emission tomographic imaging in bipolar affective disorder and schizophrenia. JAMA Psychiatry74(12), 1206-1213http://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2943

Marquand, A. F., Rezek, I., Buitelaar, J., & Beckmann, C. F. (2016). Understanding heterogeneity in clinical cohorts using normative models: beyond case-control studies. Biological Psychiatry, 80(7), 552-561, http://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.12.023

McTeague, L. M., Huemer, J., Carreon, D. M., Jiang, Y., Eickhoff, S. B., & Etkin, A. (2017). Identification of common neural circuit disruptions in cognitive control across psychiatric disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 174(7), 676-685. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16040400

Van Dam, N. T., O’Connor, D., Marcelle, E. T., Ho, E. J., Craddock, R. C., Tobe, R. H., … & Milham, M. P. (2017). Data-driven phenotypic categorization for neurobiological analyses: Beyond DSM-5 labels. Biological Psychiatry, 81, 484-494. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.06.027

Yager, J., & Feinstein, R. E. (2017). Potential applications of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) to clinical psychiatric practice: How RDoC might be used in assessment, diagnostic processes, case formulation, treatment planning, and clinical notes. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry78(4), 423-432. https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.15nr10476


Selected Papers on Philosophy of Science

Aragona, M. (2014). Epistemological reflections about the crisis of the DSM-5 and the revolutionary potential of the RDoC project. Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences7(1), 11-20.

Bluhm, R. (2017). The need for new ontologies in psychiatry. Philosophical Explorations, 20, 146-159. https://doi.org/10.1080/13869795.2017.1312498

Guloksuz, S., & van Os, J. (2018). The slow death of the concept of schizophrenia and the painful birth of the psychosis spectrum. Psychological Medicine, 48(2), 229-244. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291717001775

Hoffman, G. A., & Zacher, P. (2017). RDoC’s metaphysical assumptions: Problems and promises. In J. Poland & S. Tekin (Eds.), Extraordinary science and psychiatry: Responses to the crisis in mental health research. Cambridge: MIT Press. (pp. 59-86).

Holmes, A. J., & Patrick, L. M. (2018). The myth of optimality in clinical neuroscience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences22, 241-257. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2017.12.006

Miller, G. A. (2010). Mistreating psychology in the decades of the brain. Perspectives on Psychological Science5(5), 716-743. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691610388774

Murphy, D. (2017). Can psychiatry refurnish the mind? Philosophical Explorations, 20, 160-174. https://doi.org/10.1080/13869795.2017.1312499

Pouncey, C. (2017). Psychopathology without nosology: The Research Domain Criteria project as normal science. In J. Poland & S. Tekin (Eds.), Extraordinary science and psychiatry: Responses to the crisis in mental health research. Cambridge: MIT Press. (pp. 87-104).

Sullivan, J. A. (2016). Stabilizing constructs through collaboration across different research fields as a way to foster the integrative approach of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Project. Frontiers in Human Neurosciencehttps://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00309