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Cognitive Errors in Depression

Aaron Beck’s work with depressed patients
convinced him that depression is primarily a
disorder of thinking rather than of mood. He argued
that depression can best be described as a cognitive
triad of negative thoughts about oneself, the
situation, and the future. The depressed person
misinterprets facts in a negative way, focuses on
the negative aspects of any situation, and also has
pessimistic expectations about the future. The
cognitive errors of depressed people include the
following.

1. Overgeneralizing: Drawing global conclusions about worth, ability, or performance on
the basis of a single fact.
2. Selective abstraction: Focusing on one insignificant detail while ignoring the more
important features of a situation.
3. Personalization: Incorrectly taking responsibility for bad events in the world.
4. Magnification and minimization: Gross evaluations of a situation in which small, bad
events are magnified and large, good events are minimized.
5. Arbitrary inference: Drawing conclusions in the absence of sufficient evidence or of
any evidence at all.
6. Dichotomous thinking: Seeing everything in one extreme or its opposite (black or
white, good or bad).
Beck and others have noted that the thoughts of depressed people differ from
those with anxiety disorders. Those suffering from anxiety typically focus on
uncertainty and worry about the future. In contrast, depressed people focus on
negative aspects of the past or reflect a negative outlook on what the future will
bring. Whereas anxious people worry about what may happen and whether they
will be able to deal with it, depressed people think about how terrible the future
will be and how they will be unable to deal with it or improve it.

Sarason, I., & Sarason, B. (2005). Abnormal psychology (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.