Network theory, as a theoretical and methodological framework, is energizing many research fields, among which clinical psychology and psychiatry. Fundamental to the network theory of psychopathology is the role of specific symptoms and their interactions. Current statistical tools, however, fail to fully capture this constitutional property. We propose community detection tools as a means to evaluate the complex network structure of psychopathology, free from its original boundaries of distinct disorders. Unique to this approach is that symptoms can belong to multiple communities. Using a large community sample and spanning a broad range of symptoms (Symptom Checklist-90-Revised), we identified 18 communities of interconnected symptoms. The differential role of symptoms within and between communities offers a framework to study the clinical concepts of comorbidity, heterogeneity and hallmark symptoms. Symptoms with many and strong connections within a community, defined as stabilizing symptoms, could be thought of as the core of a community, whereas symptoms that belong to multiple communities, defined as communicating symptoms, facilitate the communication between problem areas. We propose that defining symptoms on their stabilizing and/or communicating role within and across communities accelerates our understanding of these clinical phenomena, central to research and treatment of psychopathology.
- Journal Article