Categorical vs dimensional classifications of psychotic disorders

Compr Psychiatry. 2012 Nov;53(8):1118-29. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2012.04.010. Epub 2012 Jun 7.


Objective: Both categorical and dimensional methods appear relevant to classifying psychotic disorders; however, there is no clear consensus on the most appropriate categories and dimensions or on the best approach for constructing nosologic criteria that integrate these 2 methods. This review examines the evidence on specific dimensions and categories that would best characterize psychoses.

Method: Entries in the MEDLINE database between 1980 and 2011 were searched for studies of the dimensional and/or categorical structure of psychosis. Studies were included if samples represented a spectrum of psychotic disorders and dimensions/categories were empirically derived using principal components analysis, factor analysis, or latent class analysis.

Results: Most dimensional studies observed 4 or 5 dimensions within psychosis, with positive, negative, disorganization, and affective symptom domains most frequently reported. Substance abuse, anxiety, early onset/developmental, insight, cognition, hostility, and behavioral/social disturbance dimensions appeared in some studies. Categorical studies suggested 3 to 7 major classes within psychosis, including a class similar to Kraepelin's dementia praecox and one or more classes with significant mood components. Only 2 studies compared the relative fit of empirically derived dimensions and categories within the same data set, and each had significant limitations.

Conclusion: There is relatively consistent evidence on appropriate categories and dimensions for characterizing psychoses. However, the lack of studies directly comparing or combining these approaches provides insufficient evidence for definitive conclusions about their relative merits and integration. The authors provide specific recommendations for designing future studies to identify valid dimensions and/or categories of the psychoses and investigate hybrid approaches to model the structure of the underlying illnesses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Humans
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychotic Disorders / classification*
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Schizophrenia / classification*
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis
  • Schizophrenic Psychology