Better Safe Than Sorry: A Common Signature of General Vulnerability for Psychopathology

O. Van den Bergh, J. Brosschot, H. Critchley, J.F. Thayer, C. Ottaviani

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Several labels, such as neuroticism, negative emotionality, and dispositional negativity, indicate a broad dimension of psychopathology. However, largely separate, often disorder-specific research lines have developed that focus on different cognitive and affective characteristics that are associated with this dimension, such as perseverative cognition (worry, rumination), reduced autobiographical memory specificity, compromised fear learning, and enhanced somatic-symptom reporting. In this article, we present a theoretical perspective within a predictive-processing framework in which we trace these phenotypically different characteristics back to a common underlying “better-safe-than-sorry” processing strategy. This implies information processing that tends to be low in sensory-perceptual detail, which allows threat-related categorical priors to dominate conscious experience and for chronic uncertainty/surprise because of a stagnated error-reduction process. This common information-processing strategy has beneficial effects in the short term but important costs in the long term. From this perspective, we suggest that the phenomenally distinct cognitive and affective psychopathological characteristics mentioned above represent the same basic processing heuristic of the brain and are only different in relation to the particular type of information involved (e.g., in working memory, in autobiographical memory, in the external and internal world). Clinical implications of this view are discussed.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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