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Unconsidered issues of measurement noninvariance in biological psychiatry: A focus on biological phenotypes of psychopathology

Abstract

There is increasing appreciation that certain biological processes may not be equally related to all psychiatric symptoms in a given diagnostic category. Research on the biological phenotyping of psychopathology has begun examining the etiological and treatment implications of identified biotypes; however, little attention has been paid to a critical methodological implication of these results: measurement noninvariance. Measurement invariance is the ability of an instrument to measure the same construct, the same way, across different people, or across different time points for the same individual. If what a measure quantifies differs across different people (e.g., those with or without a particular biotype) or time points, then it is invalid to directly compare means on that measure. Using a running example of inflammatory phenotypes of depression, we first describe the biological phenotyping of psychopathology. Second, we discuss three types of measurement invariance. Third, we demonstrate how differential biology-symptom associations invariably creates measurement noninvariance using a theoretical example and simulated data (for which code is provided). We also show how this issue can lead to false conclusions about the broader diagnostic construct. Finally, we provide several suggestions for addressing these important issues to help advance the field of biological psychiatry.

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Fig. 1: Visual representation of a risk factor associated with a subset of symptoms.
Fig. 2: Visual representations of measurement noninvariance.

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Acknowledgements

DPM was supported by National Research Service Award F31 MH122116 and an APF Visionary Grant. KJJ was supported by a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship administered by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and National Institute of Drug Abuse R36 DA050049. GMS was supported by National Institutes of Health grant K08 MH103443 and by grant OPR21101 from the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine. LBA was supported by National Institute of Mental Health R01 MH101168.

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DPM generated the idea for the manuscript, wrote the manuscript, and ran analyses. KJJ helped refine theoretical underpinning of the manuscript, consulted on code, and provided feedback on the manuscript. GMS and LBA provided feedback on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Daniel P. Moriarity.

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Moriarity, D.P., Joyner, K.J., Slavich, G.M. et al. Unconsidered issues of measurement noninvariance in biological psychiatry: A focus on biological phenotypes of psychopathology. Mol Psychiatry 27, 1281–1285 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-021-01414-5

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