The Importance of Sensory Processing in Mental Health: A Proposed Addition to the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) and Suggestions for RDoC 2.0

Front Psychol. 2019 Feb 5;10:103. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00103. eCollection 2019.


The time is ripe to integrate burgeoning evidence of the important role of sensory and motor functioning in mental health within the National Institute of Mental Health's [NIMH] Research Domain Criteria [RDoC] framework (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.a), a multi-dimensional method of characterizing mental functioning in health and disease across all neurobiological levels of analysis ranging from genetic to behavioral. As the importance of motor processing in psychopathology has been recognized (Bernard and Mittal, 2015; Garvey and Cuthbert, 2017; National Institute of Mental Health, 2019), here we focus on sensory processing. First, we review the current design of the RDoC matrix, noting sensory features missing despite their prevalence in multiple mental illnesses. We identify two missing classes of sensory symptoms that we widely define as (1) sensory processing, including sensory sensitivity and active sensing, and (2) domains of perceptual signaling, including interoception and proprioception, which are currently absent or underdeveloped in the perception construct of the cognitive systems domain. Then, we describe the neurobiological basis of these psychological constructs and examine why these sensory features are important for understanding psychopathology. Where appropriate, we examine links between sensory processing and the domains currently included in the RDoC matrix. Throughout, we emphasize how the addition of these sensory features to the RDoC matrix is important for understanding a range of mental health disorders. We conclude with the suggestion that a separate sensation and perception domain can enhance the current RDoC framework, while discussing what we see as important principles and promising directions for the future development and use of the RDoC.

Keywords: Research Domain Criteria (RDoC); autism spectrum disorder (ASD); mental health; schizophrenia; sensorimotor; sensory perception; sensory processing; sensory processing disorder.

Publication types

  • Review