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The 8 types of cognitive distortions

The 8 types of cognitive distortions

May 6, 2021

We have known for some time that it is not the events themselves that trigger our emotions but the interpretation we make of them. That is, how we perceive them and how we interpret them .

Behind every feeling of sadness, anger, fear or anguish there may be a thought that is concealing or disguising reality. That is why in certain disorders such as depression, anxiety or phobias, cognitive distortions play a major role.

In this article we will explain what are the most frequent types of cognitive distortions and what each one of them consists of.

The deceptions of the brain and cognitive distortions

Therefore, it is vital to stop to think about the validity of these thoughts, since we could be suffering from unreal causes.


The human mind is very complex and sometimes we get lost in it and we are not able to differentiate reality from fiction.

What are cognitive distortions and how do they affect us?

Cognitive distortions are misinterpretations of reality that lead the individual to perceive the world in a non-objective way, in addition to being dysfunctional. They come in the form of automatic thoughts and trigger negative emotions that lead to unwanted or maladaptive behaviors.

In this way a loop is generated, because these dysfunctional behaviors end up reinforcing the cognitive schemes that generated them, so that the dynamics are maintained or even intensified.


Characteristics of cognitive distortions

  • They are often expressed in terms of categorical imperatives: "would have to", "should", "I must ...".
  • They are experienced as spontaneous, suddenly appear in the mind without any apparent trigger.
  • They are brief, specific and discrete messages and are often presented in the form of a visual image.
  • They tend to be dramatic and catastrophic.
  • They are difficult to divert.
  • They are learned.

Types of cognitive distortions, and examples

There are a large number of cognitive errors in which people fall over and over again . Below I will describe some of the most frequent, with an example to make it easier to understand them.

These are the types of cognitive distortions.

1. Overgeneralization

Following an isolated case generalize a conclusion valid for all . Example: "Juan has not written to me, people always forget me."


2. Selective abstraction

Focus on "tunnel vision" only on certain aspects, usually negative and disturbing , of a circumstance or person, excluding the rest of its characteristics and ignoring the positive of them. Example: "I've had salt in the macaroni, I'm a horrible cook".

3. Arbitrary inference

Emit judgments or draw conclusions quickly or impulsively , based on incomplete or erroneous information. Example: "she tells me that not to be tough, women are like that".

4. Confirmatory bias

Tendency to interpret reality in a way that confirms our previous beliefs . Example: "I was wrong, if I already knew that I do not serve for this".

5. Fallacy of the divine reward

To think that in the future problems will improve on their own without taking a proactive attitude. Example: "my boss is exploiting me, but I'm calm because time puts everyone in their place".

6. Thinking reading

Assume the intentions or cognitions of others . Example: "they look at me because I'm making a fool of myself."

7. Error of the fortune-teller

Believe knowing what the future will be like and act accordingly . Example: "I will not go to that job interview because I know they will not hire me".

8. Personalization

Suppose everything that people do or say has to do directly with oneself . Example: "Marta has a bad face, she must be angry with me".

How to end cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions can be modified once they have been detected.

There are techniques in psychotherapy that directly affect this type of distortion , and are the so-called cognitive restructuring techniques. In them, the professional helps the individual to identify the erroneous beliefs that he has developed towards the world, and later both work together to develop thoughts and alternative ways of interpreting situations.

A) Yes, the psychologist helps the person learn to question the validity of their own cognitive schemes and to replace them with more realistic alternative thoughts, which will make them feel more positive emotions and therefore they will be favorable when it comes to having more useful behaviors to live in greater harmony with their environment.


CBT Cognitive Distortions Animation (May 2021).


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