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First-Generation RDoC Measurement Elements


Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D.
Director, Research Domain Criteria Unit


This initiative aims to develop and implement an operational template for including standard data elements in Research Domain Criteria (RDoC)-themed research, and to produce an initial, provisional set of recommended standard measures for each Domain and Construct within the RDoC Matrix, with the goal of facilitating data sharing. Where standard measures do not current exist, this initiative aims to support research to develop new measures.


The RDoC Project is a significant cross-cutting effort for the Institute in the 2015 Strategic Plan for Research.  RDoC aims to support research that considers mental illnesses in terms of fundamental behavioral-neural systems (for instance, fear or working memory) rather than traditional diagnostic categories.  The long-term goal is to develop a scientific base that can inform future neuroscience-based diagnostic systems for mental illnesses. To generate a systematic RDoC database for this purpose, it is important to develop a set of paradigms and measures that are generally accepted by the field. However, if we prematurely establish standards for non-optimal affective/behavioral/cognitive tasks, we run the risk of hampering future revisions of constructs, leading to deleterious effects on the long-term development of RDoC. A reasonable compromise would be to establish general data formats, and to begin development of a program for standardized paradigms and measures. The latter would be explicitly intended to be revised regularly, in order to incorporate new developments and findings, while still offering the field some standardization that can foster data sharing through the RDoC Database (RDoCdb). Ideally, this initiative will support the establishment of 2-4 paradigms and/or measures that are available for each RDoC construct in order to provide researchers a choice among a group of vetted elements, while still maintaining a degree of standardization. Where it is determined that no appropriate measures exist for a given construct, the NIMH will support pertinent research to develop new tasks or instruments.

This initiative aims to:

  1. Determine the availability and appropriateness of tasks and measures in all RDoC Domains and Constructs. Such tasks would include paradigms both for children of various age ranges, and for adults; priority would be given to paradigms where the same basic task can be used (with appropriate parametric variations) across a range of children and adults.  Three classes of measures are envisioned: (1) tasks for use in research studies (laboratory-based or mobile apps); (2) symptom- or function-based instruments for use as outcomes in clinical trials or experimental studies; and (3) screening instruments for use in larger-scale studies (e.g., large clinical trials) as aids to subject screening and selection.
  2. Examine the current status of paradigm and measurement development to determine recommended elements for all RDoC Domains and Constructs.
  3. Determine standards for databases (e.g., formatting), following the current standard of the NIMH Data Repositories.
  4. Evaluate the development of a platform for developing and distributing RDoC laboratory paradigms, using a standard experimental platform to be determined.
  5. Where available, incorporate well-validated tasks and measures into a common system. 
  6. Identify instances where no or insufficient measures are available, either for developmental or adult populations, and support research to develop new measures.
  7. Devise a procedure for revising the data elements on a periodic basis, revising or replacing tasks and measures as appropriate on the basis of new findings in the literature.

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