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Dimensions over categories: a meta-analysis of taxometric research

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 June 2020

Nick Haslam
Affiliation:
Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Melanie J. McGrath
Affiliation:
Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Wolfgang Viechtbauer
Affiliation:
Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
Peter Kuppens
Affiliation:
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

Taxometric procedures have been used extensively to investigate whether individual differences in personality and psychopathology are latently dimensional or categorical (‘taxonic’). We report the first meta-analysis of taxometric research, examining 317 findings drawn from 183 articles that employed an index of the comparative fit of observed data to dimensional and taxonic data simulations. Findings supporting dimensional models outnumbered those supporting taxonic models five to one. There were systematic differences among 17 construct domains in support for the two models, but psychopathology was no more likely to generate taxonic findings than normal variation (i.e. individual differences in personality, response styles, gender, and sexuality). No content domain showed aggregate support for the taxonic model. Six variables – alcohol use disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, problem gambling, autism, suicide risk, and pedophilia – emerged as the most plausible taxon candidates based on a preponderance of independently replicated findings. We also compared the 317 meta-analyzed findings to 185 additional taxometric findings from 96 articles that did not employ the comparative fit index. Studies that used the index were 4.88 times more likely to generate dimensional findings than those that did not after controlling for construct domain, implying that many taxonic findings obtained before the popularization of simulation-based techniques are spurious. The meta-analytic findings support the conclusion that the great majority of psychological differences between people are latently continuous, and that psychopathology is no exception.

Type
Review Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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