Cognitive Distortions: Examples & Definition

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  • 0:01 What Are Cognitive…
  • 0:33 Types
  • 2:02 Examples
  • 3:05 How to Change
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Quentin Shires

Quentin has taught psychology and other social science classes at the university level and is considered a doctoral colleague at Capella University.

This lesson discusses the concept of cognitive distortions and identifies common types of distorted thinking. After the lesson, take the quiz to see if you have what it takes to spot distorted thinking!

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

If you've ever had a repeated untrue, negative thought cross your mind, then you have experienced a cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are thoughts that our minds create in order to convince us of something that isn't true. Typically, these untrue thoughts are negative. Cognitive distortions can be a normal sign of development or a typical response to a stressful situation. There are specific therapeutic approaches that help mitigate distortions and help individuals suffering from these thoughts to reorient their perspective.

Types of Cognitive Distortions

Throughout their lives, most people will experience both positive and negative situations. However, when focus is always on the negative, this can be deemed as a negative prediction. If you notice someone frequently overestimating that an action will have a negative outcome, then they may be experiencing a cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions do not allow people to think in a positive manner, forcing them to routinely focus on the negative in any event that takes place.

Throughout the day, we always have a self-talk that is running through our minds, telling us how to react in certain situations. Personalizing is a cognitive distortion where someone will repetitively take things personally that otherwise aren't meant to be. A good example is when you say something to a friend in haste, and because of your tone they immediately conclude that you are upset with them.

Mind-reading is perhaps one of the most common forms of cognitive distortions that can occur with people. When a person experiences mind-reading, that person gains an unrealistic sense of situations, as they are guessing what someone else is thinking, without having the facts. A good example of this is when your family member stops communicating with you. They may in fact be mind-reading what your responses might be, without giving you a chance to talk to them.

Catastrophizing is when someone routinely thinks of unpleasant events as catastrophes. For example, your child fails a test and automatically believes that he or she will fail the whole course, while in actuality the test does not weigh very heavily on their final grade. This is an example of catastrophizing.

Examples of Cognitive Distortions

It can be hard to know how another person thinks, but there are some easy ways to spot distortions in other people.

For example, maturing teenagers experiencing distortions will often exemplify a downfall and see it as a major character flaw. When making a mistake, a healthy adult will typically own up to the mistake, verbally telling others what occurred. A teenager that experiences distortions and has low self-esteem will verbally inform others that instead of making a mistake, they are 'a fool,' 'a loser' or 'a jerk.' While using the catastrophizing type of distortion, they will then label themselves as a failure due to a single mistake while ignoring evidence to the contrary. Adults and younger children can also display this behavior.

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