Categories versus dimensions in personality and psychopathology: a quantitative review of taxometric research

Psychol Med. 2012 May;42(5):903-20. doi: 10.1017/S0033291711001966. Epub 2011 Sep 23.


Taxometric research methods were developed by Paul Meehl and colleagues to distinguish between categorical and dimensional models of latent variables. We have conducted a comprehensive review of published taxometric research that included 177 articles, 311 distinct findings and a combined sample of 533 377 participants. Multilevel logistic regression analyses have examined the methodological and substantive variables associated with taxonic (categorical) findings. Although 38.9% of findings were taxonic, these findings were much less frequent in more recent and methodologically stronger studies, and in those reporting comparative fit indices based on simulated comparison data. When these and other possible confounds were statistically controlled, the true prevalence of taxonic findings was estimated at 14%. The domains of normal personality, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, externalizing disorders, and personality disorders (PDs) other than schizotypal yielded little persuasive evidence of taxa. Promising but still not definitive evidence of psychological taxa was confined to the domains of schizotypy, substance use disorders and autism. This review indicates that most latent variables of interest to psychiatrists and personality and clinical psychologists are dimensional, and that many influential taxonic findings of early taxometric research are likely to be spurious.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / classification*
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality Disorders / classification
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality*
  • Psychopathology
  • Research Design*