Dysfunctions of decision-making and cognitive control as transdiagnostic mechanisms of mental disorders: advances, gaps, and needs in current research

Int J Methods Psychiatr Res. 2014 Jan;23 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):41-57. doi: 10.1002/mpr.1410.


Disadvantageous decision-making and impaired volitional control over actions, thoughts, and emotions are characteristics of a wide range of mental disorders such as addiction, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders and may reflect transdiagnostic core mechanisms and possibly vulnerability factors. Elucidating the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms is a precondition for moving from symptom-based to mechanism-based disorder classifications and ultimately mechanism-targeted interventions. However, despite substantial advances in basic research on decision-making and cognitive control, there are still profound gaps in our current understanding of dysfunctions of these processes in mental disorders. Central unresolved questions are: (i) to which degree such dysfunctions reflect transdiagnostic mechanisms or disorder-specific patterns of impairment; (ii) how phenotypical features of mental disorders relate to dysfunctional control parameter settings and aberrant interactions between large-scale brain systems involved in habit and reward-based learning, performance monitoring, emotion regulation, and cognitive control; (iii) whether cognitive control impairments are consequences or antecedent vulnerability factors of mental disorders; (iv) whether they reflect generalized competence impairments or context-specific performance failures; (v) whether not only impaired but also chronic over-control contributes to mental disorders. In the light of these gaps, needs for future research are: (i) an increased focus on basic cognitive-affective mechanisms underlying decision and control dysfunctions across disorders; (ii) longitudinal-prospective studies systematically incorporating theory-driven behavioural tasks and neuroimaging protocols to assess decision-making and control dysfunctions and aberrant interactions between underlying large-scale brain systems; (iii) use of latent-variable models of cognitive control rather than single tasks; (iv) increased focus on the interplay of implicit and explicit cognitive-affective processes; (v) stronger focus on computational models specifying neurocognitive mechanisms underlying phenotypical expressions of mental disorders.

Keywords: cognitive control; decision-making; large-scale brain systems; transdiagnostic mechanisms; volition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research* / trends
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications*
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mood Disorders / etiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests