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Operationalizing proneness to externalizing psychopathology as a multivariate psychophysiological phenotype


  • This manuscript is based on work completed by the first author in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts at the University of Minnesota, under the supervision of the second author. The work was supported by grants MH65137, MH17069, MH072850, MH080239, MH089727, and AA12164 from the National Institutes of Health.

Address correspondence to: Lindsay D. Nelson or Christopher J. Patrick, Department of Psychology, Florida State University, 1107 West Call Street, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4301, USA. E-mail: or


The externalizing dimension is viewed as a broad dispositional factor underlying risk for numerous disinhibitory disorders. Prior work has documented deficits in event-related brain potential (ERP) responses in individuals prone to externalizing problems. Here, we constructed a direct physiological index of externalizing vulnerability from three ERP indicators and evaluated its validity in relation to criterion measures in two distinct domains: psychometric and physiological. The index was derived from three ERP measures that covaried in their relations with externalizing proneness—the error-related negativity and two variants of the P3. Scores on this ERP composite predicted psychometric criterion variables and accounted for externalizing-related variance in P3 response from a separate task. These findings illustrate how a diagnostic construct can be operationalized as a composite (multivariate) psychophysiological variable (phenotype).