USF St. Petersburg campus Honors Program Theses (Undergraduate)


Jaclyn Dell

First Advisor

Thesis Director: Christina Salnaitis, Ph.D. College of Arts and Sciences

Second Advisor

Thesis Committee Member: Jennifer O'Brien, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, College of Arts and Sciences

Third Advisor

Thesis Committee Member: Thomas Smith, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Director, University Honors Program


University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Document Type


Date Available


Publication Date


Date Issued



In general medicine, and much more in the treatment of psychiatric illness, one size does not fit all. Expansive breakthroughs in science and medicine have given scientists insight into the biological causes of diseases and disorders heretofore unimaginable until the past several years. Moreover, the field of neuroscience has begun to unravel the complicated networking systems of the human brain, and scientists are slowly beginning to comprehend how humans process the world around them. This has allowed for personalized treatment and improved results in physical health. But what of emotional and mental health? The focus of this review is to call for the integration of neuroscience and translational research in psychopathology, a field concerned with the malfunctioning of those processes. The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), a project launched by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2009, is the basis for this literature review, due to its transdiagnostic nature and focus on integrating neuroscience into mental health research and treatment. The limitations of the current classification system of mental disorders will be reviewed in chapter 1, followed by an overview of the RDoC format. Chapters 2 and 3 will cover genetic and neuroscientific research, including the concept of endophenotypes which the RDoC matrix is structured upon, and chapter 4 will focus on the reward system and its abnormal functioning in substance use disorder (also known as addiction).

In attempts to move past using specific DSM diagnoses, it may seem counterintuitive to focus on one particular disorder, such as substance use disorder. However, substance use disorder can be especially useful as a template for a transdiagnostic mechanism when studying the underlying biology of psychopathology. Substance use disorder is frequently co-diagnosed with other mental disorders. Statistically, according to the US Department of Health and Human A call for neuroscience 3 Services, 41-65% of those suffering from a lifetime substance use disorder also have a history of at least one serious mental illness, and 50% of those with a lifetime serious mental illness also have a history of at least one substance use disorder (Perron, Bunger, Bender, Vaughn, & Howard, 2010, p. 1263).

Moreover, substance use passes through several stages of differing patterns of behaviors, employing different neural circuits, affective states, cognitive functions, and behavior patterns. The “downward spiral” of the addiction cycle can actually mimic different disorders as it progresses through these various stages, which allows researchers specific targets for research during this process (Everitt, Belin, Economidou, Pelloux, Dalley, & Robbins, 2008). For example, the competing processes of what the addict “wants” vs. “does” (self-reported desire to stop yet the inability to do so) provides researchers a dense subject matter of neurological dysfunction. By focusing on the underlying circuitry involved, rather than on the illness itself, substance use disorder casts a wide net when searching for dysfunctional processing of neural circuits.

It is time to redefine the understanding of mental disorders, and change the ways of research and treating them. The current literature review seeks to illumine this new approach in psychopathology.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University Honors Program University of South Florida, St. Petersburg

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