Competing definitions of schizophrenia: what can be learned from polydiagnostic studies?

Schizophr Bull. 2007 Sep;33(5):1178-200. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbl065. Epub 2006 Dec 8.


The contemporary diagnoses of schizophrenia (sz)-Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition(DSM-IV) and International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision(ICD-10)-are widely considered as important scientific achievements. However, these algorithms were not a product of explicit conceptual analyses and empirical studies but defined through consensus with the purpose of improving reliability. The validity status of current definitions and of their predecessors remains unclear. The so-called "polydiagnostic approach" applies different definitions of a disorder to the same patient sample in order to compare these definitions on potential validity indicators. We reviewed 92 polydiagnostic sz studies published since the early 1970s. Different sz definitions show a considerable variation concerning frequency, concordance, reliability, outcome, and other validity measures. The DSM-IV and the ICD-10 show moderate reliability but both definitions appear weak in terms of concurrent validity, eg, with respect to an aggregation of a priori important features. The first-rank symptoms of Schneider are not associated with family history of sz or with prediction of poor outcome. The introduction of long duration criteria and exclusion of affective syndromes tend to restrict the diagnosis to chronic stable patients. Patients fulfilling the majority of definitions (core sz patients) do not seem to constitute a strongly valid subgroup but rather a severely ill subgroup. Paradoxically, it seems that a century after the introduction of the sz concept, research is still badly needed, concerning conceptual and construct validity of sz, its essential psychopathological features, and phenotypic boundaries.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • International Classification of Diseases / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Schizophrenia / classification
  • Schizophrenia / complications
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Terminology as Topic*