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Updating the research domain criteria: the utility of a motor dimension

  • J. A. Bernard (a1) and V. A. Mittal (a2)


Within the NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework, dimensions of behavior are investigated across diagnoses with the goal of developing a better understanding of their underlying neural substrates. Currently, this framework includes five domains: cognitive, social, arousal/regulatory, negative, and positive valence systems. We argue that the inclusion of a motor systems domain is sorely needed as well. Independent of medication, distinct areas of motor dysfunction (e.g. motor planning/inhibition/learning/coordination, involuntary movements) commonly appear across a number of mental disorders (e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer's disease, depression) as well as neurological disorders accompanied by significant psychological symptoms (e.g. Parkinson's disease). In addition, motor systems are amenable to study across multiple levels of analysis from the cellular molecular level focusing on cytoarchitechtonics and neurotransmitter systems, to networks and circuits measured using neuroimaging, and finally at the level of overt behavioral performance. Critically, the neural systems associated with motor performance have been relatively well defined, and different circuits have been linked to distinct aspects of motor behavior. As such, they may also be differentially associated with symptoms and motor dysfunction across diagnoses, and be uniquely informative about underlying etiology. Importantly, motor signs can change across stages of illness; they are also often present in the prodromal phases of disease and closely linked with course, suggesting that these behaviors represent a core feature reflective of pathogenic processes. The inclusion of a motor domain would allow researchers to better understand psychopathology more broadly, and may also reveal important contributions to disease processes across diagnoses.

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Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: J. A. Bernard, Ph.D, Texas A&M University, Department of Psychology, College Station, TX 77843, USA. (Email:


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