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Exploring the underlying structure of mental disorders: cross-diagnostic differences and similarities from a network perspective using both a top-down and a bottom-up approach

  • J. T. W. Wigman (a1) (a2), J. van Os (a2) (a3), D. Borsboom (a4), K. J. Wardenaar (a1), S. Epskamp (a4), A. Klippel (a2), MERGE (a2), W. Viechtbauer (a2), I. Myin-Germeys (a2) and M. Wichers (a1) (a2)...



It has been suggested that the structure of psychopathology is best described as a complex network of components that interact in dynamic ways. The goal of the present paper was to examine the concept of psychopathology from a network perspective, combining complementary top-down and bottom-up approaches using momentary assessment techniques.


A pooled Experience Sampling Method (ESM) dataset of three groups (individuals with a diagnosis of depression, psychotic disorder or no diagnosis) was used (pooled N = 599). The top-down approach explored the network structure of mental states across different diagnostic categories. For this purpose, networks of five momentary mental states (‘cheerful’, ‘content’, ‘down’, ‘insecure’ and ‘suspicious’) were compared between the three groups. The complementary bottom-up approach used principal component analysis to explore whether empirically derived network structures yield meaningful higher order clusters.


Individuals with a clinical diagnosis had more strongly connected moment-to-moment network structures, especially the depressed group. This group also showed more interconnections specifically between positive and negative mental states than the psychotic group. In the bottom-up approach, all possible connections between mental states were clustered into seven main components that together captured the main characteristics of the network dynamics.


Our combination of (i) comparing network structure of mental states across three diagnostically different groups and (ii) searching for trans-diagnostic network components across all pooled individuals showed that these two approaches yield different, complementary perspectives in the field of psychopathology. The network paradigm therefore may be useful to map transdiagnostic processes.


Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: Dr J. T. W. Wigman, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands. (Email:


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