Folk Classification and Factor Rotations: Whales, Sharks, and the Problems With the Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology (HiTOP)

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology (HiTOP) uses factor analysis to group self-reported symptoms of mental illness (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 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is used in clinical settings while researchers focus on developing a falsifiable theory-based classification system.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18-May-2021


  • DSM
  • classification
  • HiTOP
  • homology
  • mental health
  • taxonomy
  • theory

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