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Causality and PsychopathologyFinding the Determinants of Disorders and their Cures$
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Patrick Shrout, Katherine Keyes, and Katherine Ornstein

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199754649

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199754649.001.0001

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The Need for Dimensional Approaches in Discerning the Origins of Psychopathology

The Need for Dimensional Approaches in Discerning the Origins of Psychopathology

14 The Need for Dimensional Approaches in Discerning the Origins of Psychopathology
Causality and Psychopathology

Robert F. Krueger

Daniel Goldman

Oxford University Press

The 2008 meeting of the American Psychopathological Association was framed by a very challenging topic: causality. Indeed, setting aside any possible application in understanding psychopathology, causality is a deep concept—a fact that has kept philosophers gainfully employed for some time now. One thing is clear, however, at least in the behavioral sciences: If one wants to make credible causal claims, it helps to be able to directly manipulate the variables of interest. Indeed, some would go so far as to say that causality cannot be inferred without this kind of experimental manipulation. Through manipulation, one can systematically vary a variable of interest, while holding others constant, including the observational conditions. Consider, for example, how this is conveyed to new students in the behavioral sciences in a very useful text by Stanovich (2007). Stanovich (2007) first reviews the classic observation that simply knowing that two things (A and B) tend to occur together more often than one would expect by chance (a correlation) is not enough evidence to conclude that those two things have some sort of causal relationship (e.g., A causes B). To really claim that A causes B, ‘‘the investigator manipulates the variable hypothesized to be the cause and looks for an effect on the variable hypothesized to be the effect while holding all other variables constant by control and randomization’’ (p. 102). The implications of this experimental perspective on causality for psychopathology research are readily apparent: The situation is nearly hopeless, at least in terms of getting at the original, antecedent, distal causes of psychopathology. It is axiomatically unethical to manipulate variables to enhance the likelihood of psychopathology; we cannot directly manipulate things to create psychopathology in persons who do not already suffer from psychopathology. This is not to say that, once psychopathology is present, experimental designs are not fundamentally helpful in understanding the mechanisms underlying its expression. Indeed, the discipline of experimental psychopathology is founded on this premise, involving comparisons of the behaviors of persons with psychopathology and persons without psychopathology under precisely controlled conditions.

Keywords:   Antisocial behavior, Comorbidity, Drug dependence, Heterogeneity, Latent class model, Multimorbidity, Subclinical psychopathology, Taxometric methods

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