Folk Classification and Factor Rotations: Whales, Sharks, and the Problems with HiTOP

Gerald Haeffel*, Bertus F. Jeronimus, Bonnie Kaiser, Lesley Weaver, Peter Soyster, Aaron J Fisher, Ivan Vargas, Jason Goodson, Wei Lu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

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The Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology (HiTOP) uses factor analysis to group people with similar self-reported symptoms (i.e., like-goes-with-like). It is hailed as a significant improvement over other diagnostic taxonomies. However, the purported advantages and fundamental assumptions of HiTOP have received little, if any scientific scrutiny. We critically evaluated five fundamental claims about HiTOP. We conclude that HiTOP does not demonstrate a high degree of verisimilitude and has the potential to hinder progress on understanding the etiology of psychopathology. It does not lend itself to theory-building or taxonomic evolution, and it cannot account for multifinality, equifinality, or developmental and etiological processes. In its current form, HiTOP is not ready to use in clinical settings and may result in algorithmic bias against underrepresented groups. We recommend a bifurcation strategy moving forward in which the DSM is used in clinical settings while researchers focus on developing a falsifiable theory-based classification system.
Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Feb-2021


  • HiTOP
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Worry
  • GAD
  • MDD
  • Generalized Anxiety DIsorder
  • Taxonomies
  • Factor Analysis
  • Clinical Psychopathology
  • Disorder
  • Symtpoms
  • Linnean System
  • Classification

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