Taxonomic systems try to describe physical as well as behavioral and social phenomena in a meaningful way. Taxonomy can be defi ned as the grouping of cases, e.g. individuals, according to their distinguishing features. This grouping can be done on different, hierarchical levels of defi ning characteristics, such as, in medicine: individual problems or symptoms; symptom aggregates or syndromes; functional disorders; or etiological factors (Verhulst & Koot, 1992). Taxonomy is the process of the identifi cation of groups of individuals according to their properties, hence according to intrinsic criteria. Classifi cation is related to taxonomy, but is somewhat broader and includes the grouping of cases according to extrinsic criteria (e.g., source of referral) as well as intrinsic criteria, which are based on the features of the cases themselves. Diagnosis can be defi ned as the medical term for classifi cation (Achenbach, 1991c; Verhulst & Koot, 1992). Taxonomy should also be distinguished from assessment, although they are closely related. Assessment identifi es the distinguishing features of each individual case, which, in child and adolescent psychiatry e.g., can be expressed in behavioral, emotional, or physical measures (Achenbach, 1991c; Verhulst & Koot, 1992). While in taxonomy the central goal is identifying groups of individuals with similar intrinsic features, assessment aims to identify characteristics that distinguish one individual from others. Assessment can be used to classify an individual in the proper taxonomic category. Examples of assessment procedures are questionnaires, e.g. the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and the Teacher’s Report Form (TRF) (Achenbach and Rescorla, 2001), as well as interviews, e.g. the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children – Parent Version (DISC-IV-P; Shaffer et al., 1998).

F.C. Verhulst (Frank)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

de Nijs, P. F. A. (2009, April 8). Taxonomy of Disruptive Behavior in Children and Adolescents. Retrieved from