The NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Initiative and Its Implications for Research on Personality Disorder

  • Jacob W. Koudys
  • Jenna M. Traynor
  • Achala H. Rodrigo
  • Dean Carcone
  • Anthony C. RuoccoEmail author
Personality Disorders (K Bertsch, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Personality Disorders


Purpose of Review

We discuss the implications of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative for neuroscience research on personality disorder (PD). To organize our review, we construct a preliminary conceptual mapping of PD symptom criteria onto RDoC constructs. We then highlight recent neuroscience research, often built around concepts that correspond to RDoC elements, and discuss the findings in reference to the constructs we consider most pertinent to PD.

Recent Findings

PD symptoms were strongly conceptually tied to RDoC constructs within the Social Processes domain, implicating brain systems involved in interpersonal rejection, facial emotion perception, and self-referential processes. Negative and Positive Valence Systems were conceptually associated with many PD symptoms, with particular relevance ascribed to the latter’s Reward Valuation construct, which could reflect a more widespread disruption of computational processes involved in estimating the probability and benefits of a future outcome. Within the Cognitive Systems domain, the Cognitive Control construct mainly related to PD symptoms associated with impulse control, suggesting a connection to neural circuits that underlie goal selection and behavioral control. Arousal and Regulatory Systems could only be conceptually mapped onto PD symptoms through the Arousal construct, with different symptoms reflecting either a higher or lower biological sensitivity to internal and external stimuli.


The RDoC framework has promise to advance neuroscience research on PD. The Social Processes domain is especially relevant to PD, although constructs falling within the other RDoC domains could also yield important insights into the neurobiology of PD and its connections with other forms of psychopathology. Identifying RDoC constructs (e.g., habit formation) that subserve more fundamental processes relevant to personality functioning warrants further investigation.


Research domain criteria Personality disorder Negative valence systems Positive valence systems Cognitive systems Social processes 



We are grateful to Dr. Vina Goghari for her constructive feedback on the formulation of the contents of this article.

Funding information

Jacob W. Koudys is supported by a Master’s Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Achala H. Rodrigo is supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Dean Carcone is supported by a Doctoral Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Anthony C. Ruocco is a University of Toronto Scarborough Research Excellence Faculty Scholar and is supported by an Early Researcher Award (ER14-10-185) from the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Jacob W. Koudys, Jenna M. Traynor, Achala H. Rodrigo, and Dean Carcone each declare no potential conflicts of interest.

Anthony C. Ruocco has received consulting fees from System Analytic.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacob W. Koudys
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jenna M. Traynor
    • 1
  • Achala H. Rodrigo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dean Carcone
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anthony C. Ruocco
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Toronto ScarboroughTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Psychological Clinical ScienceUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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