Beyond Deficits: Dimensional Approaches to Neuropsychology from Dysfunction through Exceptional Abilities

November 12, 2014


NOV 12, 2014 1:30PM - 4:30PM

Beyond Deficits: Dimensional Approaches to Neuropsychology from Dysfunction through Exceptional Abilities

Robert M. Bilder, Ph.D.
Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA; Department of Psychology, UCLA

Neuropsychology has long focused on the effects of pathological conditions on brain and behavior, and interventions often attempt to ameliorate deficiencies associated with categorical disease entities.  Recent attempts to model the biological bases of mental and cognitive disorders, however, have emphasized the lack of clear separation between “healthy” and “ill” individuals, leading to dimensional approaches to understand the basic brain mechanisms underlying these syndromes.   Similar issues have arisen in the study of many complex diseases, including diverse neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, which may reflect the interactions among hundreds or thousands of genes, mediated through myriad biological pathways.  This workshop focuses on implications of these developments for clinical neuropsychology, and recent research initiatives that may lead to changes in the current diagnostic taxonomy of mental disorders, replacing this with more biologically validated dimensions.  The workshop will describe the main themes of the NIMH Research Domains Criteria Initiative (RDoC).  RDoC consensus meetings already have operationalized target dimensions for cognitive systems (attention, perception, working memory, declarative memory, language, and cognitive [effortful] control), positive and negative valence systems, systems for social processes, and arousal and regulatory systems.  How do the traditional neuropsychological models of domains align with these NIMH RDoC dimensions, and how might these developments affect future assessment strategies?  The workshop will then consider another implication of dimensional approaches, and specifically what we may learn from individuals who possess exceptional abilities.  Animal models already provide new insights – for example, transgenic “smart” mice that excel in working memory paradigms – that may lead to new treatment paradigms based on cognitive augmentation.   What can studies of exceptional humans add to our understanding of brain-behavior relations, and how might these examples point the way towards more effective interventions in cognitive syndromes?  Addressing these questions may provide novel insights into the cognitive disorders associated with traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, and a diversity of other neuropsychiatric syndromes.

After attending this workshop, participants will be able to:

1.  List cognitive dimensions being targeted by the National Institute of Mental Health Research Domains Criteria (RDoC) initiative;

2. Summarize the “matrix” structure used in RDoC to link genetics, cellular mechanisms, neural circuits and higher level cognitive, behavioral and symptom measures; and

3. Give examples of research on exceptional abilities in both humans and non-human species that  point to new directions for intervention.