Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Patterns of Psychological Problems in University Undergraduates: Factor Structure of Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression, Physical Symptoms, Alcohol Use, and Eating Problems

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Patterns of Psychological Problems in University Undergraduates: Factor Structure of Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression, Physical Symptoms, Alcohol Use, and Eating Problems

Article excerpt

This study sought patterns underlying a broad range of psychological problems in 248 undergraduates at a private Midwestern university by examining relations among 1) psychological problems significant in undergraduates and 2) potential correlates of psychological problems. Psychological problems examined were anxiety, depression, emotional stress, physical symptoms, amount and consequences of alcohol consumption, eating problems, and psychological traits associated with eating problems. Personal-emotional adjustment was included as the potential opposite of maladjustment. Factor analyses generally found two broad independent patterns constant across genders. Internalized Distress consisted of anxiety; depression; emotional stress; personal maladjustment; physical symptoms; eating problems; and eating traits. Alcohol Abuse consisted of amount and consequences of alcohol consumption. Multiple regression analyses indicated that whereas stressors were correlates of both factors, female gender predicted higher scores on Internalized Distress, while male gender predicted higher scores on Alcohol Abuse.

It is potentially useful to seek patterns underlying psychological problems and symptoms (Andrews, 1996; Clark, Watson, & Reynolds, 1995; Krueger, Caspi, Moffett, & Silva, in press). Taken as independent entities, psychological problems and symptoms may seem more specific and internally consistent; they may also, however, appear lacking in overall coherence and more fragmented. Psychologists studying psychological problems and symptoms have been educated to construe these problems and symptoms as independent and discrete by the general aims and methods of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals (DSM's; American Psychiatric Association, 1980, 1987, 1994) since the Third Edition, which appeared in 1980 (for brief histories, see Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-Fourth Edition, DSM-IV, 1994, pp. xv-xvii-xviii; Mack, Forman, Brown, & Frances, 1994). The aim of recent DSM's was to increase interrater reliability among diagnosticians and homogeneity within diagnostic categories by creating categories which were smaller in coverage individually but greater in number collectively. Recent DSM's have generally been successful in achieving these ends in a progression which has permitted both clinical and scientific advances (DSM-IV; Matarazzo, 1983; Millon; 1991). It is possible that in the process, however, some unifying and underlying coherence has been overlooked.

Discerning underlying coherence can have many potential advantages. These include integrating and simplifying a larger domain; identifying common risk factors for disorders which belong to the same "extended family"; discerning developmental continuities; and potentially even facilitating efforts at prevention, which may be consolidated and refined.

An outstanding example of seeking and discovering underlying patterns of coherence beneath psychological problems and symptoms has recently been offered by Krueger et al. (in press). Krueger and his colleagues studied a community sample (an entire cohort) of late adolescents in a city in New Zealand who were given diagnoses according to DSM-III-R and followed into early adulthood. Krueger and his co-workers searched for both simplicity underneath multiple diagnoses and stability through time. Ten common DSM-III-R mental disorders were studied, diagnoses which ranged from Anxiety Disorders through Conduct Disorder, Personality Disorders, and Substance Use Disorders. Krueger et al. (in press) tested three different models of underlying coherence: a single latent variable, which could be construed as "general maladjustment"; two latent variables, which could be characterized as "internalizing" problems and "externalizing" problems; and four different latent variables, corresponding roughly to the grouping of the individual disorders in DSM-III-R in separate chapters of the manual. Krueger and his colleagues found that two latent variables comprising internalizing and externalizing disorders, respectively, represented their data very well and significantly better than did either of the two other models tested. …

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