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Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns involved in the onset and perpetuation of "psychopathological states, especially those more influenced by psychosocial factors, such as "depression and "anxiety.[1] Psychiatrist "Aaron T. Beck laid the groundwork for the study of these distortions, and his student "David D. Burns continued research on the topic. Burns, in "The Feeling Good Handbook[2] (1989), described personal and professional anecdotes related to cognitive distortions and their elimination.

Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cause individuals to perceive reality inaccurately. According to the cognitive model of Beck, a negative outlook on reality, sometimes called negative schemas (or schemata), is a factor in symptoms of emotional dysfunction and poorer subjective well being. Specifically, negative thinking patterns cause negative emotions.[3] During difficult circumstances, these distorted thoughts can contribute to an overall negative outlook on the world and a depressive or anxious mental state.



In 1972, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and "cognitive therapy scholar Aaron T. Beck published Depression: Causes and Treatment.[4] He was dissatisfied with the conventional Freudian treatment of "depression, because there was no empirical evidence for the success of Freudian "psychoanalysis. Beck's book provided a comprehensive and empirically supported theoretical model for depression — its potential causes, symptoms, and treatments. In Chapter 2, titled "Symptomatology of Depression," he described “cognitive manifestations” of depression, including low self-evaluation, negative expectations, self-blame and self-criticism, indecisiveness, and distortion of the body image.[4]

In 1980 Burns published Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy[5] (with a preface by Beck), and nine years later The Feeling Good Handbook, both of which built on Beck's work.

Main types[edit]

Examples of some common cognitive distortions seen in depressed and anxious individuals. People may be taught how to identify and alter these distortions as part of "Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

The cognitive distortions listed below[2] are categories of automatic thinking, and are to be distinguished from "logical fallacies.[6]

Always being right[edit]

Being wrong is unthinkable. This cognitive distortion is characterized by actively trying to prove one's actions or thoughts to be correct, and sometimes prioritizing "self-interest over the feelings of another person.[3]


The opposite of personalization; holding other people responsible for the harm they cause, and especially for their "intentional or "negligent infliction of emotional distress.[3]

Example: someone blames one's spouse entirely for marital problems, instead of looking at one's own part in the problems.

Disqualifying the positive[edit]

Discounting positive events.

Emotional reasoning[edit]

Presuming that negative feelings expose the true nature of things and experiencing reality as a reflection of emotionally linked thoughts. Thinking something is true, solely based on a feeling.

Fallacy of change[edit]

Relying on "social control to obtain cooperative actions from another person.[3]

Fallacy of fairness[edit]

This is the belief that life should be fair and produces upset or angry emotions when life is perceived as failing to be fair.[3]


Focusing entirely on negative elements of a situation to the exclusion of the positive. Also, the brain's tendency to filter information that does not conform to already-held beliefs.

Jumping to conclusions[edit]

Reaching preliminary conclusions (usually negative) with little (if any) evidence. Two specific subtypes are identified:

Labeling and mislabeling[edit]

A form of overgeneralization; attributing a person's actions to his or her character instead of to an attribute. Rather than assuming the behavior to be accidental or otherwise extrinsic, one assigns a label to someone or something that is based on the inferred character of that person or thing.

Magnification and minimization[edit]

Giving proportionally greater weight to a perceived failure, weakness or threat, or lesser weight to a perceived success, strength or opportunity, so that the weight differs from that assigned by others, such as ""making a mountain out of a molehill". In depressed clients, often the positive characteristics of other people are exaggerated and their negative characteristics are understated.


Making "hasty generalizations from insufficient evidence. Drawing a very broad conclusion from a single incident or a single piece of evidence. Even if something bad happens only once, it is expected to happen over and over again.[3]


"Attributing personal responsibility, including the resulting praise or blame, to events over which the person has "no control.

Making "should" statements[edit]

Doing, or expecting others to do, what one "should to do morally-irrespective of the "particular case the person is faced with. "Albert Ellis termed this phenomenon "musturbation". Michael C. Graham called it "expecting the world to be different than it is".[8]

Splitting (All-or-nothing thinking or dichotomous reasoning)[edit]

Evaluating the self, as well as events in life in extreme terms. It’s either all good or all bad, either black or white, nothing in between. Even small imperfections seem incredibly dangerous and painful. Splitting involves using terms like "always", "every" or "never" when they are false and misleading.

Cognitive restructuring[edit]

"Cognitive restructuring (CR) is a popular form of therapy used to identify and reject maladaptive cognitive distortions[9] and is typically used with individuals diagnosed with depression.[10] In CR, the therapist and client first examine a stressful event or situation reported by the client. For example, a depressed male college student who experiences difficulty in dating might believe that his "worthlessness" causes women to reject him. Together, therapist and client might then create a more realistic cognition, e.g., "It is within my control to ask girls on dates. However, even though there are some things I can do to influence their decisions, whether or not they say yes is largely out of my control. Thus, I am not responsible if they decline my invitation." CR therapies are designed to eliminate "automatic thoughts" that include clients' dysfunctional or negative views. According to Beck, doing so reduces feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and anhedonia that are symptomatic of several forms of mental illness.[11] CR is the main component of Beck's and Burns's "cognitive behavioral therapy.[12]

Narcissistic defense[edit]

Those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder tend to view themselves as unrealistically superior and overemphasize their strengths but understate their weaknesses.[13] As such, narcissists use "exaggeration and "minimization to defend against psychic pain.[14][15]


In "cognitive therapy, decatastrophizing or decatastrophization is a "cognitive restructuring technique that may be used to treat cognitive distortions, such as magnification and catastrophizing,[16] commonly seen in psychological disorders like "anxiety[10] and "psychosis.[17] Major features of these disorders are the subjective report of being overwhelmed by life circumstances and the incapability of affecting them. The following statements are typical:

The goal of CR would be to help the client change his or her perceptions so as to render the felt experience as less significant. In the first example, the client's reported incapability would be reframed so that, although perhaps not all the work will be done by the deadline, the employee's sustained effort will make it unlikely that the boss will fire him or her.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Helmond, Petra; Overbeek, Geertjan; Brugman, Daniel; Gibbs, John C. "A Meta-Analysis on Cognitive Distortions and Externalizing Problem Behavior". Criminal Justice and Behavior. 42 (3): 245–262. "doi:10.1177/0093854814552842. 
  2. ^ a b Burns, David D. (1989). The Feeling Good Handbook: Using the New Mood Therapy in Everyday Life. New York: W. Morrow. "ISBN "0-688-01745-2. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Grohol, John (2009). "15 Common Cognitive Distortions". PsychCentral. Archived from the original on 2009-07-07. 
  4. ^ a b Beck, Aaron T. (1972). Depression; Causes and Treatment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. "ISBN "0-8122-7652-3. 
  5. ^ Burns, David D. (1980). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York: Morrow. "ISBN "0-688-03633-3. 
  6. ^ a b Tagg, John (1996). "Cognitive Distortions". Retrieved October 24, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c Schimelpfening, Nancy. "You Are What You Think". 
  8. ^ Graham, Michael C. (2014). Facts of Life: ten issues of contentment. Outskirts Press. p. 37. "ISBN "978-1-4787-2259-5. 
  9. ^ Gil, Pedro J. Moreno (2001). "Effectiveness of cognitive-behavioural treatment in social phobia: A meta-analytic review". Psychology in Spain. 5: 17–25 – via Dialnet. 
  10. ^ a b Martin, Ryan C.; Dahlen, Eric R. (2005). "Cognitive emotion regulation in the prediction of depression, anxiety, stress, and anger". Personality and Individual Differences. 39 (7): 1249–1260. "doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.06.004. 
  11. ^ Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders : DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association., American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 Task Force. (5th ed ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association. 2013. "ISBN "9780890425541. "OCLC 830807378. 
  12. ^ Rush, A.; Khatami, M.; Beck, A. (1975). "Cognitive and Behavior Therapy in Chronic Depression". Behavior Therapy. 6 (3): 398–404. "doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(75)80116-X. 
  13. ^ Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders : DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association., American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 Task Force. (5th ed ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association. 2013. "ISBN "9780890425541. "OCLC 830807378. 
  14. ^ "Millon, Theodore; Carrie M. Millon; Seth Grossman; Sarah Meagher; Rowena Ramnath (2004). Personality Disorders in Modern Life. "John Wiley and Sons. "ISBN "0-471-23734-5. 
  15. ^ Thomas, David (2010). Narcissism: Behind the Mask. "ISBN "978-1-84624-506-0. 
  16. ^ Theunissen, Maurice; Peters, Madelon L.; Bruce, Julie; Gramke, Hans-Fritz; Marcus, Marco A. "Preoperative Anxiety and Catastrophizing". The Clinical Journal oF Pain. 28 (9): 819–841. "doi:10.1097/ajp.0b013e31824549d6. 
  17. ^ Moritz, Steffen; Schilling, Lisa; Wingenfeld, Katja; Köther, Ulf; Wittekind, Charlotte; Terfehr, Kirsten; Spitzer, Carsten (2011). "Persecutory delusions and catastrophic worry in psychosis: Developing the understanding of delusion distress and persistence". Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 42 (September 2011): 349–354. "doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2011.02.003. 
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