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 distress there may be a thought that is hiding 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 which are the most frequent types of cognitive distortions and what each of them consists of.

Brain tricks and cognitive distortions

It is therefore vitally important to stop and think about the validity of these thoughts, as we could be suffering from unrealistic causes.

The human mind is very complex and sometimes we get lost in it and are unable 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 an unobjective as well as dysfunctional way. They present themselves in the form of automatic thoughts and trigger negative emotions that lead to unwanted or maladaptive behaviour.

This generates a loop, 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: “should”, “should”, “must”.
  • They are experienced as spontaneous, appearing suddenly in the mind without any apparent trigger.
  • They are short, specific and discreet messages and are often presented in the form of a visual image.
  • They tend to be dramatic and catastrophic.
  • They’re hard to deflect.
  • They are learned.

Types of cognitive distortions, and examples

There are a large number of cognitive errors into which people fall over and over again . I will now describe some of the most common ones, with an example to make them easier to understand.

These are the types of cognitive distortions.

1. Overgeneralization

Following an isolated case generalize a conclusion valid for everything . Example: “John has not written to me, people always forget about me”.

2.Selective Abstraction

To focus in “tunnel vision” mode 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 overdid it with the salt in the macaroni, I’m a horrible cook”.

3.Arbitrary Inference

Making judgements or drawing conclusions quickly or impulsively , based on incomplete or erroneous information. Example: “she tells me that she doesn’t want to play hard to get, women are like that”.

4.Confirmation bias

Tendency to interpret reality in a way that confirms our previous beliefs . Example: “I have made a mistake, if I already knew that I am not good at this”.

5.Fallacy of the Divine Reward

Thinking that in the future problems will improve on their own without taking a proactive attitude. Example: “my boss is exploiting me, but I am calm because time puts everyone in their place”.

6.Thought Reading

To presuppose the intentions or cognitions of others . Example: “they are looking at me because I am making a fool of myself”.

7.Fortune teller error

Believing that you know what the future will be like and acting accordingly . Example: “I’m not going to that job interview because I know I won’t be hired.


Assume that everything people do or say has to do directly with oneself . Example: “Martha looks bad, she must be angry with me.

How to end cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions can be modified once they are detected.

There are techniques in psychotherapy that directly affect this type of distortions , and they are the so-called cognitive restructuring techniques. In them, the professional helps the individual to identify the erroneous beliefs that he or she has developed towards the world, and subsequently both work together to develop alternative thoughts and forms of interpretation of the situations.

Thus, the psychologist helps the person to learn to question the validity of his/her own cognitive schemes and to replace them with more realistic alternative thoughts, which will make him/her feel more positive emotions and therefore will be favourable when it comes to having more useful behaviours to live in greater harmony with his/her environment.

Bibliographic references:

  • Gadenne, V. (2006). Philosophy of psychology. Spain: Herder.
  • Jung, Carl Gustav (2003). Symbology of the spirit. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
  • Triglia, Adrián; Regader, Bertrand; García-Allen, Jonathan (2016). Psychologically speaking. Paidós.
  • Vidales, Ismael (2004). General psychology. Mexico: Limusa.