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04-02-2016 | Uitgave 8/2016

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 8/2016

The Development of the General Factor of Psychopathology ‘p Factor’ Through Childhood and Adolescence

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology > Uitgave 8/2016
Aja Louise Murray, Manuel Eisner, Denis Ribeaud
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The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s10802-016-0132-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Recent studies have suggested that the structure of psychopathology may be usefully represented in terms of a general factor of psychopathology (p-factor) capturing variance common to a broad range of symptoms transcending diagnostic domains in addition to specific factors capturing variance common to smaller subsets of more closely related symptoms. Little is known about how the general co-morbidity captured by this p-factor develops and whether general co-morbidity increases or decreases over childhood and adolescence. We evaluated two competing hypotheses: 1) dynamic mutualism which predicts growth in general co-morbidity and associated p-factor strength over time and 2) p-differentiation which predicts that manifestations of liabilities towards psychopathology become increasingly specific over time. Data came from the Zurich Project on the Social Development of Children and Youths (z-proso), a longitudinal study of a normative sample (approx. 50 % male) measured at 8 time points from ages 7 to 15. We operationalised general co-morbidity as p-factor strength in a bi-factor model and used omega hierarchical to track how this changed over development. In contrast to the predictions of both dynamic mutualism and p-differentiation, p-factor strength remained relatively constant over the studied period suggesting that such processes do not govern the interplay between psychopathological symptoms during this phase of development. Future research should focus on earlier phases of development and on factors that maintain the consistency of symptom-general covariation across this period.

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