Don’t Blame the Model: Reconsidering the Network Approach to Psychopathology

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Abstract

The network approach to psychopathology is becoming increasingly popular. The motivation for this approach is to provide a replacement for the problematic common cause perspective and the associated latent variable model, where symptoms are taken to be mere effects of a common cause (the disorder itself). The idea is that the latent variable model is plausible for medical diseases, but unrealistic for mental disorders, which should rather be conceptualized as networks of directly interacting symptoms. We argue that this rationale for the network approach is misguided. Latent variable (or common cause) models are not inherently problematic, and there is not even a clear boundary where network models end and latent variable (or common cause) models begin. We also argue that focusing on this contrast has led to an unrealistic view of testing and finding support for the network approach, as well as an oversimplified picture of the relationship between medical diseases and mental disorders. As an alternative, we point out more essential contrasts, such as the contrast between dynamic and static modeling approaches that can provide a better framework for conceptualizing mental disorders. Finally, we discuss several topics and open problems that need to be addressed in order to make the network approach more concrete and to move the field of psychological network research forward.

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