Negative symptom studies frequently use single composite scores as indicators of symptom severity and as primary endpoints in clinical trials. Factor analytic and external validation studies do not support this practice but rather suggest a multidimensional construct. The current study used structural equation modeling (SEM) to compare competing dimensional models of negative symptoms to determine the number of latent dimensions that best capture variance in biological, psychological, and clinical variables known to have associations with negative symptoms.
Three independent studies (total n = 632) compared unidimensional, two-factor, five-factor, and hierarchical conceptualizations of negative symptoms in relation to cognition, psychopathology, and community functioning (Study 1); trait emotional experience and defeatist performance beliefs (Study 2); and glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid levels in the anterior cingulate cortex quantified using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (Study 3).
SEM favored the five-factor and hierarchical models over the unidimensional and two-factor models regardless of the negative symptom measure or external validator. The five dimensions—anhedonia, asociality, avolition, blunted affect, and alogia—proved vital either as stand-alone domains or as first-order domains influenced by second-order dimensions—motivation and pleasure and emotional expression. The two broader dimensions sometimes masked important associations unique to the five narrower domains. Avolition, anhedonia, and blunted affect showed the most domain-specific associations with external variables across study samples.
Five domains and a hierarchical model reflect the optimal conceptualization of negative symptoms in relation to external variables. Clinical trials should consider using the two dimensions as primary endpoints and the five domains as secondary endpoints.