Quantifying heterogeneity attributable to polythetic diagnostic criteria: theoretical framework and empirical application.
Heterogeneity within psychiatric disorders is both theoretically and practically problematic: For many disorders, it is possible for 2 individuals to share very few or even no symptoms in common yet share the same diagnosis. Polythetic diagnostic criteria have long been recognized to contribute to this heterogeneity, yet no unified theoretical understanding of the coherence of symptom criteria sets currently exists. A general framework for analyzing the logical and mathematical structure, coherence, and diversity of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual diagnostic categories (DSM-5 and DSM-IV-TR) is proposed, drawing from combinatorial mathematics, set theory, and information theory. Theoretical application of this framework to 18 diagnostic categories indicates that in most categories, 2 individuals with the same diagnosis may share no symptoms in common, and that any 2 theoretically possible symptom combinations will share on average less than half their symptoms. Application of this framework to 2 large empirical datasets indicates that patients who meet symptom criteria for major depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder tend to share approximately three-fifths of symptoms in common. For both disorders in each of the datasets, pairs of individuals who shared no common symptoms were observed. Any 2 individuals with either diagnosis were unlikely to exhibit identical symptomatology. The theoretical and empirical results stemming from this approach have substantive implications for etiological research into, and measurement of, psychiatric disorders.
Olbert, CM; Gala, GJ; Tupler, LA
Volume / Issue
Start / End Page
Pubmed Central ID
Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)