Is cognition integral to psychopathology? A population-based cohort study

Anat Rotstein, Suzanne Fund, Stephen Z. Levine, Abraham Reichenberg, Judy Goldenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Lower cognitive functioning has been documented across psychiatric disorders and hypothesized to be a core deficit of mental disorders. Situating psychopathology and cognition as part of a unitary construct is therefore important to understanding the etiology of psychiatric disorders. The current study aims to test competing structural models of psychopathology and cognition in a large national cohort of adolescents. Methods The analytic sample consisted of 1189 participants aged 16-17 years, screened by the Israeli Draft Board. Psychopathology was assessed using a modified version of the Brief Symptom Inventory, and cognition was assessed based on four standardized test scores ((1) mathematical reasoning, concentration, and concept manipulation; (2) visual-spatial problem-solving skills and nonverbal abstract reasoning; (3) verbal understanding; (4) categorization and verbal abstraction). Confirmatory factor analysis was implemented to compare competing structural models of psychopathology with and without cognition. Sensitivity analyses examined the models in different subpopulations. Results Confirmatory factor analysis indicated a better model fit of psychopathological symptoms without cognition (RMSEA = 0.037; TLI = 0.991; CFI = 0.992) than with cognition (RMSEA = 0.04-0.042; TLI = 0.987-0.988; CFI = 0.988-0.989). Sensitivity analyses supported the robustness of these results with a single exception. Among participants with low cognitive abilities (N = 139), models that integrated psychopathological symptoms with cognition had a better fit compared to models of psychopathology without cognition. Conclusions The current study suggests that cognition and psychopathology are, generally, independent constructs. However, within low cognitive abilities, cognition was integral to the structure of psychopathology. Our results point toward an increased vulnerability to psychopathology in individuals with low cognitive abilities and may provide valuable information for clinicians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7350-7357
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number15
StatePublished - 28 Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • Adolescents
  • Brief symptom inventory
  • Intellectual performance
  • Intelligence
  • Psychopathological symptoms
  • Structural models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology


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