Developmental Psychopathology: assessment, diagnosis and risk factors

The aim of this line is the study of psychopathology, its evaluation and the risk and protection factors from an developmental perspective from infancy to adolescence.

The research especially deals with:
  • Risk factors, vulnerability and protection in psychopathology
  • High risk groups
  • Diagnostic interviews.
  • Assessment instruments for epidemiological studies and clinical use.
  • Manifestations and the course of psychological disorders in children and adolescents: phenomenology, diagnostic definition, etiological factors, course, comorbidity, differential diagnosis
These subjects are currently being covered in the following projects:
  • Psychological risk and vulnerability factors in psychopathology: A longitudinal cohort study from preschool age

The overall aim of the study is to identify developmental trajectories of psychopathology and their relationship with risk and vulnerability factors.

  • Effects of exposure to domestic violence in children

Attending a major social demand, in this project we look at a population at risk: children exposed to domestic violence. The purpose of this project is to find out the effects of domestic violence on the mental health of children. We study the psychological problems and other risk factors directly associated with domestic violence such as exposure characteristics (degree of exposure, nature of the violent act, type of abuse, etc.) in children whose mothers come for advice at gender violence centres.

The results of these lines of research have different practical implications:

  • PLANNING SERVICES. We need to know how many, how and who is affected to plan the help they need.
  • PREVENTION: design and planning of preventative measures
  • ETIOLOGY: the research into risk is an etiological investigation that helps us to find out the probable causes of the problems.
- Research group:  Unit of Epidemiology and Diagnosis in Psychopathology of Development (UED)
- SGR-Research group Epidemiology and Diagnosis in Psychopathology of Development (link)

Psychopathology in Early Childhood

Child Bipolar Disorder in clinical populations.

Currently the diagnosis of bipolar disorder (BD) in childhood is very low. Studies of prevalence in the child population show great variations in the results because of the large number of different methods used. The primary objective is therefore to find out more precisely what the real prevalence of this disorder is in the clinical population in Spain and examine associated variables. In order to find out this information there is a second objective which is to analyse the reliability of the CBCL and finally to monitor the evolution of the children (20 years) prospectively.

TCD prevention in infancy and first grades of primary school.

Recent studies show the importance of prevention programmes applied from a very young age. Over the twenty years a wide range of interventions have been developed in the family and school environments to redirect behavioural problems (Estrada and Pinsof, 1995) and more recently ‘The Incredible Years' programme (Webster-Stratton et al., 2001). The aim is to apply for the first time in Spain a prevention programme for behavioural disorders between the ages of 4 and 8. The method includes in its population school from the country of Osona involved in the inclusive schools programme (N=14); pre-school levels P4, P5, and primary years one and two. An assessment will be carried out using  CBCL11/2-5, TRF, PSC (eci-4) and SDQ (social competencies ). With the application of this prevention programme for behavioural disorders for the first time in Spain we hope to be able to provide the necessary help for better development of social and emotional competencies of children in the classroom (and at home) and obtain a reduction in the percentage of children at risk of a major behaviour disorder, improvement in academic achievement and in the teacher-child and parent-child relationships.

Executive Function and Disruptive Behaviour Disorders (ADHD).

The objective of this study is to adapt and validate the BRIEF executive function scale in the Catalan population (preschool-school and adolescent). A second objective is to see the relationship between the kinds of executive function of parents with the educational styles applied to their children. The third objective is to make a genetic analysis of parents and children using TCD and see the possible relationship.
All lines also study gender differences.

- Unit for Research into Child Psychopathology (link)

Food and body image: from normal behaviour to changed behaviour (TCA and TD)

This is a broad line of research that we have spent more than 20 years working on.

It includes investigation into:
  • Epidemiology.
  • TCA and TD risk factors.
  • Evaluation instruments: Translation, validation and production.
  • Preventative intervention in adolescents and university students.
  • Transcultural comparisons in TCA symptoms and body image satisfaction.
In Risk Factors studies have been and are being carried out on:
  • Sexual, physical and emotional abuse and its relation to TCA; in samples of university students and TCA patients.
  • Masculinity and femininity and their relation to TCA.
  • Cognitions characteristic of TCA.
  • Relationship between low self-esteem and poor body image.
  • Risk prediction factors in altered eating behaviour in longitudinal studies.
As far as evaluation instruments are concerned a great effort is being made to produce and analyse the reliability and validity of two cognition evaluation instruments related to changes in eating behaviour.

As preventative interventions we have carried out the following:
  • Two studies including: The prevention programme. The efficiency study
  • The methodological application conditions were improved.
  • Two year follow up and the results of application with quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques.
  • Qualitative techniques helped us to improve the prevention  programme.
  • For years assessment techniques have been designed for women university students with poor body image (UAIC). Changes related to the introduction of new intervention techniques that have been seen to be efficient will probably be introduced  (The Body Project) in relation to the University of Valencia.
  • A new preventative intervention for changes in eating behaviour, corporal dissatisfaction and the consumption of tobacco and other substances related to that dissatisfaction will be carried out. As an intervening variable personality traits will be controlled. In this preventative intervention quantitative and qualitative analysis techniques will be used as well as a new intervention technique.
- Body image evaluation and intervention unit (link)
- Research group in women's behaviour, lifestyle and health (link)

Eating and weight-related problems and Research Unit on Eating and Weight-Related Behaviors (UCAP)

This line of research, developed by UCAP (the Research Unit on Eating and Weight-Related Behaviors), is based on an integrated approach to the study of shared risk factors for eating and weight-related problems (EAWRP). EAWRP include, among other issues, disordered eating, weight stigma, weight-control behaviors, body dissatisfaction, overweight and obesity. The study of these problems has traditionally followed quite separate paths, either by mental-health professionals (disordered eating) or else by public-health and biomedicine professionals (overweight and obesity). This line, however, studies the broad spectrum of problems previously outlined by means of a new, integrated approach.

The main objectives of this line of research are the following:
  • The epidemiological study of EAWRP and of their interrelations.
  • The study of risk factors shared by EAWRP (e.g., media influence; dieting; weight stigma; body dissatisfaction; weight-related teasing).
  • The design and adaptation of instruments for assessing relevant variables.
  • The development and evaluation of integrated prevention and intervention programs.
- Eating and weight-related problems (PRAP) and Research Unit on Eating and Weight-Related Behaviors (UCAP) (link)

Psychobiological risk and vulnerability factors in schizophrenic and affective spectra

This line of research investigates different psychobiological markers of vulnerability in the schizophrenic and affective spectra. It connects with the tradition of high risk studies and the theoretical and clinical concepts of schizotype. The team has carried out several studies with populations of adolescents from the general population, university students, etc. The results have been published of studies of different neurocognitive variables (attention, executive functions, etc.) personality, neurodevelopment (palm dermatoglyphics), etc. The team is currently embarking on two new projects:
  1. The phenotypical delimitation of schizophrenic spectra v. autistic spectrum.
  2. The evaluation of emotional traumas as risk factors for vulnerability in schizophrenia. The final objective of these studies is the phenotypical delimitation of disorders in the psychotic spectrum, their early detection and final prevention.

Research Unit in Psychopathology and Neuropsychology (link)

Vulnerability, psychopathology and gender

  • Study of genetic and personality risk factors in postnatal depressions and social anxiety.
  • Study of cerebral activity with FMR in patients with social anxiety receiving ISRS treatment.
  • Pharmacogenetic study of the pharmacological response in depressive women treated with ISRS during pregnancy.
  • Neuropsychological and psychopathological risk study in 5-year-old children of mothers treated with ISRS during pregnancy.
  • Pharmacogenetic study of the pharmacological response to interferon induced depression in patients with chronic Hepatitis C.
  • Neuropsychological study of emotions in women with a personality disorder.
  • Decision-making and prognostic in women with eating disorders.
- Research group on gender psychopathology (link)

Personality and individual differences

Personality is the structural substrata on which all behaviour is based, normal and abnormal.

For more than 20 years our research group has been dedicated to the study of personality and individual differences from different lines of research, both basic and applied.

Throughout the period we have analysed personality profiles in subjects that carry out high risk activities, have high alcohol consumption analysed antisocial and uninhibited behaviour among others.

In the clinical field our lines of research has dealt with ambits such as personality disorders and fibromyalgia, among other things.

Finally we have made available to the scientific community reliable and valid instruments for personality evaluation.

- Research group into Personality and individual differences (GEPDI) (link)

Cognitive behavioural phenotypes in genetically based intellectual incapacity

This line of research falls within that of a national research group that was set up as part of a project funded by the Cooperative Research Topics call for funding from the Carlos III Health Institute of the Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs of the Spanish Government" over 4 years  (2003-2006).

From there the GIRMOGEN NETWORK appeared (Research Group in Genetic Origin Mental Retardation), which in addition to having clear scientific objectives also proposes the dissemination of its information to professional, families and society at large.

The main objectives of the Girmogen Association are:
  1. To consolidate a structure of Groups in Spain to integrate clinical, molecular and epidemiological research carried out in the field of Genetic Origin Mental Retardation.
  2. To optimise resources carrying out pioneering, quality research to be applied in clinical assistance, genetic advice and prevention as quickly and widely as possible throughout the country.
  3. In the case of Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) an integral study is sought with the aim of evaluating its prevalence in Spain optimising the diagnostic methods with the aim of palliating, preventing and finding possible therapies based on the study of animals.
  4. To study the other cases of non-labelled MR to estimate its prevalence, design common working protocols and identify new genes.
This group includes eight Spanish public hospitals within which we belong to group 5  (Hospital Taulí and UAB).

The group is subdivided into two specific lines:
  • Clinical subline, dedicated to the study of cognitive-behavioural aspects in the following syndromes: Fragile X chromosome, Angelman, Prader Willi and Williams.
  • Genetic subline.
- Unit for Research into Child Psychopathology (link)

Neuroimage in neuropsychology and neuropsychiatry

This line of research began in 1992 in the CETIR, The Medical Group of the Pedralbes Diagnostic Centre,   with Doctors Jesús Pujol and Joan Deus. Currently, and since 2006, the project is registered in the Magnetic Resonance Research Unit of the CRC Health Corporation group at the Hospital del Mar and, together with the IAT/CRC CIM forms part of the Molecular Image Centre of the Biomedical Research Park of Barcelona (PRBB).

This research unit is directed by Dr. Jesús Pujol Nuez (neurologist) and currently works with a total of 10 researchers trained in neurology, neuropsychology, psychology and engineering specialising in neuroimaging. The unit is dedicated to the study of the structure and function of the human brain and its relation to neuropsychological, neurological and neuropsychiatric functioning.

Its research lines can be divided in accordance with the use of two neuroimaging instruments:
  • functional neuroimages with Functional Magnetic Resonance (FMR)
  • structural neuroimage with 2D and 3D cranial Magnetic Resonance.
These techniques have enabled us to open up different lines of research highlighting the study of neuroanatomical and functional changes in the brain in neurological pathologies (dystonia, multiple sclerosis, neuroanatomical asymmetry and developmental retardation) and psychiatric pathologies (mood swing disorders, social anxiety, specific phobic neurosis and obsessive compulsive disorder), the applications of FMR in clinical neurosurgery in the identification of eloquent functional areas for pre-surgery planning and the study of pain (fibromyalgia, arthrosis and depression).

Specifically, in the line of Dr. Joan Deus, who currently has a grant from the R&D department of the Ministry for Education and Science, and whose study centres on the possible changes in FMR in patients with fibromyalgia and its neuropsychological alterations. The group has published a total of 32 articles in neuroscience to date (30 international and 2 national). Recently, in June 2008, the research group was awarded the research prize of the Foundation for Fibromyalgia Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Sufferers and the Spain Pain Society for its research in the area of pain.

- Research group: Unidad investigación en RM

Person-environment interaction in psychopathology

Neus Vidal Barrantes

  1. Interaction of the genotype, the person and the environment in the configuration of etiological pathways to disorders such as psychosis, depression, anxiety or personality disorders. The psychological mechanisms that can mediate between risk factors and the development of psychopathology are investigated, such as linkage alterations, cognitive schemes, mentalization or resilience.
  2. Research in psychopathology from a perspective focused on the study of processes and ecological validity. Individuals with schizotypal traits, psychotic experiences and clinical risk of psychosis are identified and assess the dynamics of subclinical symptoms and person-environment interactions in real life through the experience sampling methodology (ESM).
  3. Identification of risk factors of phenomena due to a low rate of social interaction (eg, isolation, rejection, inhibition), especially those that make reference to the spectrum of social anxiety, both in subclinical populations (for example, intense shyness, behavioral inhibition) as in clinical populations (for example, social disorder or avoidant personality disorder).
  4. Identification of protective factors that confer resistance (resilience) to adversity and psychopathology, with special attention to the phenomena, mechanisms and functions related to the ability of people to identify, sustain and metabolize their own and others' suffering (ie, reflexive function, mentalization, theory of mind, insight, mental space, emotional / intrapersonal / interpersonal intelligence, social cognition, emotional metacognition and others) as well as its mediating role in response to biographical trauma.
  5. Finally, the objectives of the group are the development of measuring instruments (newly created or adapted to native population) for the psychometric evaluation of constructs of interest as well as the analysis and search of new sampling technologies that facilitate access to human phenomenology. In this sense, part of the group is studying how to make more sophisticated the use of ICT to improve the ecological and dynamic evaluation of the "person in operation and in interaction with their environment.


Cognition and emotion: Behavior, bran bases and implications in mental health

This line of research is interested, in a broad way, by the cognitive and affective processes that, ultimately, make possible a unified conscious experience. What organization and brain dynamics make them possible? How are they affected in the case of different mental disorders? These questions are formulated in the context of new perspectives on perception and action, known as "Predictive coding". These perspectives emphasize that the brain is not "passively" waiting for the arrival of information through the different peripheral sensors (retina, cochlea, etc.) but constantly anticipates what will happen next based on past experience, and prepares to receive the information you expect. Our approach is multidisciplinary and we use diverse techniques, including behavior, non-invasive brain stimulation and neuroimaging.

Theme 1: Model of the limbic workspace

Lorena Chanes Puiggrós

This sub-line explores a new theoretical approach (Chanes and Barrett, 2016) that proposes a fundamental role of limbic cortical areas in 'high level' processes such as consciousness. We are interested in identifying potential alterations of these areas in people with mental disorders, as well as exploring new diagnostic and treatment pathways related to non-invasive brain stimulation.

Ref: Chanes L, Barrett LF (2016). Redefining the role of Limbic cortices in cortical processing. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 20 (2), 96-106.

Theme 2: Emotional predictions and social perception

Lorena Chanes Puiggrós

Recently, we have shown that predictive processes have an important impact on social perception (Chanes et al., In press). When a person shows a facial expression that we expect, we judge it as more pleasant and more reliable. This sub-line focuses on investigating the extent of the impact of emotional predictions on social perception and behavior (for example, prosocial behavior), as well as the presence and impact of similar predictive processes in people with mental disorders.

Ref: Chanes L, Wormwood JB, Betz N, Barrett LF (2018). Facial expression predictions as drivers of social perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Mentalization and psychopathology

Ballespí Sola, Sergi

Mentalization (MZ) is the ability to realize the mental states (emotions, thoughts, desires, impulses) underlying human behavior. It is difficult to make sense of human behavior without taking into account that it is motivated by mental states. This superior psychological process has been analyzed from different perspectives (Theory of the Mind, social cognition, emotional intelligence, empathy, metacognition, mindfulness, insight). The paradigm of mentalization systematizes the field in accordance with advances in neuroscience. The MZ is interesting because it is altered when there is a mental disorder and is the object of work in all psychological treatments. Is it possible that it is a fundamental pillar for mental health?

This line analyzes the role of the MZ in the transitions between health and psychopathology, transcending the classic models of mental health and adopting evolutionary, trans-diagnostic, trans-symptomatic and trans-generational points of view. From a broad perspective (WHO), the value of mentalization in the 'emotional metabolism' is analyzed, giving value to the symptom, functioning and psychological well-being. The objective is to demonstrate that the MZ is resilience and that promoting it throughout life would improve global mental health (Ballespí et al., 2018). Projects in progress:

1) Mentalization, psychopathology and functioning. We analyze, e.g., whether the MZ is a global risk / resilience factor, or how it moderates healthy and pathological functioning
2) Mentalization in the metabolism of discomfort. It is analyzed, e.g., the relationship between mentalization and somatization, or the role of MZ in the recovery of trauma.
3) Mentalization in the Social Anxiety Spectrum. The relationship between social cognition and social anxiety, or the role of hyper-mentalization, is analyzed.
4) Innovation in the measure of emotional meta-cognition and social cognition. Development of more ecological measures, implementing ICT and other technologies.
5) Applications of the MZ in treatment and prevention. Study of derivative treatments such as Mentalization Based Treatment (MBT), KidsTime, SchoolsInMind-Network or LightHouse Parenting, in contact with clinical centers.

Ref: Ballespí S, Vives J, Debbané M, Sharp C & Barrantes-Vidal N. (2018). Beyond diagnosis: Mentalization and mental Health from a transdiagnostic point of view in adolescents from non-clinical populatioin. Psychiatry Research, 270, 755-763. Doi: 10.1016 / j.psychres.2018.10.048


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