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Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Applied to Verbal Hallucinations

Led by Bruce Cuthbert. Posted on 28 May 2014

Bruce Cuthbert Ralph Hoffman Sarah KeedyIris SommerJessica Turner

Thanks to the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center and Oxford University Press, publishers of Schizophrenia Bulletin, for providing open access to the introductory article for this webinar:

Studying Hallucinations Within the NIMH RDoC Framework. Ford JM, Morris SE, Hoffman RE, Sommer I, Waters F, McCarthy-Jones S, Thoma RJ, Turner JA, Keedy SK, Badcock JC, Cuthbert BN. Schizophr Bull. 2014 Jul; 40 Suppl 4:S295-304. PMID: 24847862

SRF held a webinar on Wednesday, May 28, on the application of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) to hallucinations, one of the core symptoms of schizophrenia. Our panel included Bruce Cuthbert of the NIMH, Ralph Hoffman of Yale University, Sarah Keedy of the University of Chicago, Iris Sommer of University Medical Center, Utrecht, and Jessica Turner of Georgia State University.

Listen to the Webinar


Bruce Cuthbert's Presentation


Ralph Hoffman's Presentation


Sarah Keedy's Presentation


Iris Sommer's Presentation


Background Text

by Hakon Heimer

The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) represent the efforts of the US National Institute of Mental Health to move beyond the categories of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in research on mental illnesses. The criteria were developed out of the limelight for several years under the stewardship of Bruce Cuthbert at NIMH, but then burst onto the public scene in a very dramatic way last year (see The New York Times article and the NIMH/APA statement).

The goal of RDoC, which is "classifying psychopathology based on dimensions of observable behavior and neurobiological measures," seems like an arduous enough task for most psychiatric disorders, but how would one study the cardinal symptoms of schizophrenia—hallucinations and delusions—using the current limited access to human brain function? (And, of course, the question that follows every animal modeler: whether mice can hear squeaks that are not there.)

The RDoC work groups zeroed in on auditory hallucinations—specifically verbal hallucinations—as the lowest of these high-hanging fruit. The phenomenon occurs not only in schizophrenia or in other psychiatric disorders such as borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, but also in epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, acquired deafness, and other non-psychiatric disorders. Moreover, a growing body of research has proposed that people without psychiatric symptoms who report hearing voices might be on a continuum with people who hear voices in the company of other symptoms of schizophrenia.

Cuthbert and the RDoC work group believe that current technologies will allow the exploration of many different aspects of how hallucinations, and the experience of them, might be processed differently in the brain from the hearing of external speech. This webinar provided the researchers working on this project an opportunity to explain how they arrived at their conclusions and how hallucinations can fit into the RDoC Matrix, but more importantly, gave the research community a chance to offer any additional insights.