Three recommendations based on a comparison of the reliability and validity of the predominant models used in research on the empirical structure of psychopathology.

Miriam K. Forbes, Ashley L. Greene, Holly F. Levin-Aspenson, Ashley L. Watts, Michael Hallquist, Benjamin B. Lahey, Kristian E. Markon, Christopher J. Patrick, Jennifer L. Tackett, Irwin D. Waldman, Aidan G.C. Wright, Avshalom Caspi, Masha Ivanova, Roman Kotov, Douglas B. Samuel, Nicholas R. Eaton, Robert F. Krueger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The present study compared the primary models used in research on the structure of psychopathology (i.e., correlated factor, higher-order, and bifactor models) in terms of structural validity (model fit and factor reliability), longitudinal measurement invariance, concurrent and prospective predictive validity in relation to important outcomes, and longitudinal consistency in individuals' factor score profiles. Two simpler operationalizations of a general factor of psychopathology were also examined-a single-factor model and a count of diagnoses. Models were estimated based on structured clinical interview diagnoses in two longitudinal waves of nationally representative data from the United States ( n = 43,093 and n = 34,653). Models that included narrower factors (fear, distress, and externalizing) were needed to capture the observed multidimensionality of the data. In the correlated factor and higher-order models these narrower factors were reliable, largely invariant over time, had consistent associations with indicators of adaptive functioning, and had moderate stability within individuals over time. By contrast, the fear- and distress-specific factors in the bifactor model did not show good reliability or validity throughout the analyses. Notably, the general factor of psychopathology ( p factor) performed similarly well across tests of reliability and validity regardless of whether the higher-order or bifactor model was used; the simplest (single factor) model was also comparable across most tests, with the exception of model fit. Given the limitations of categorical diagnoses, it will be important to repeat these analyses using dimensional measures. We conclude that when aiming to understand the structure and correlates of psychopathology it is important to (a) look beyond model fit indices to choose between different models, (b) examine the reliability of latent variables directly, and (c) be cautious when isolating and interpreting the unique effects of specific psychopathology factors, regardless of which model is used. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-317
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 4 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Psychological Association


  • bifactor model
  • hierarchical model
  • latent variable models
  • quantitative psychopathology
  • validity
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Prospective Studies
  • Mental Disorders/diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Male
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Research
  • Fear
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Comparative Study


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