The Errors of Human Thinking: 15 Common Cognitive Distortions

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The Errors of Human Thinking: 15 Common Cognitive Distortions

Thinking man with a lot of question mark over his head / Photo by


A cognitive distortion is defined by the Online Psychology Degree as mental blocks or incorrect ways of thinking that often have negative effects on a person.  This theory on the errors of human thinking was proposed and popularized by the psychiatrists Aaron Beck and David Burns. Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and author of the article 15 Common Cognitive Distortions, considers them as ways that the mind convinces an individual that something is not true.

Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist, states that people can engage in distorted ways of thinking but these are more commonly found in people who have anxiety, depression and other mental disorders. These cognitive distortions occur automatically, are negative, blown out of proportion, persuasive, inaccurate portrayals of reality, all confirm an individual’s pessimistic outlook.


They are reported by to be a person's personal biases which are confirmed by their negative thought patterns.


What Causes Them?

Cognitive distortions are a result of having negative feelings. When an individual has negative emotions, they more likely to twist the information they receive. expounds on this by deconstructing cognitions and distortion basing it on Dr. David Burns’ book Feeling Good.

Cognition is a person’s view of reality or their way of interpreting themselves and their surroundings. This denotes that what a person thinks decides how a person feels. Put simply, thoughts determine someone’s emotions.

In turn, a person’s emotions may determine how they act or their behavior.

A study shows that negative thoughts almost always have exaggerated distortions. An individual’s twisted manner of thinking is said to be the cause of their unhappiness.



Types of Cognitive Distortions

According to Psych Central, these are the 15 most common types of errors in thinking:

1. Filtering

This involves only absorbing the negative aspects of a situation and emphasizing them in a person’s mind while leaving out the positive sides.


2. Black and White/Polarized Thinking

This type of negative thinking happens when an individual perceives that there is no such thing as a middle ground. A person who thinks like this has the tendency to put people or circumstances in either/or classifications.

It is the “all or nothing” manner of thought.


3. Overgeneralization

When a person comes to a general conclusion which only founded on one instance or a single proof, this is them engaging in overgeneralization.


4. Jumping to Conclusions

This is what occurs when an individual thinks they know how others are feeling and why they are acting that way without having any basis.


5. Catastrophizing

This manner of thinking involves always expecting the worst or for a disaster to strike.

It is also known as “magnifying or minimizing”.


6. Personalization

This happens when a person believes that whatever others say or do pertains to them. They think that others’ words or actions are a direct, personal reaction to them.


7. Control fallacies

A person who has this distorted thinking believes they have no control over what happens to them. They perceive themselves to be merely victims of fate.


8. Fallacy of fairness

This is when an individual becomes bitter due to the fact that others do not agree with their concept of fairness.


9. Blaming

An individual accuses others of being the cause of their misery. No one can force a person to feel a particular emotion. Only the individual themselves can manage their own emotions and reactions.


Disappointed young woman pointing and blaming someone / Photo by


10. Shoulds

Having rigid rules on how they or how others should act and think.


11. Emotional reasoning

Believing that what the person feels at the moment is automatically true.


12. Fallacy of Change

This is a kind of thinking wherein a person expects others will change for them if they just try hard enough or pressure them enough. They feel the need to change others because they seem to be their sole source of hope and happiness.


13. Global Labelling

This is also identified as “labeling” and “mislabelling”.

This kind of distortion involves attributing an unhealthy label to others or themselves instead of seeing what is actually wrong about the situation.

Global Labelling involves narrating an event with highly colored and emotionally-loaded language.


14. Always Being Right

This happens when a person believes they are always correct and refuses to think they can be proven wrong. They will go through great lengths to show how right they are.


15. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

An individual with this cognition distortion believes that all their sacrifice and self-denial will gain positive results as if someone is keeping track of all the “good things” they have done. They become resentful when they do not reap rewards.


Strive to Control the Thoughts That Turn Into Emotion

When an individual feels bad, their thoughts are ruled by negativity. This is a product of a person’s misinterpretation (distortion)  of the information. Experiencing a negative circumstance may not always cause a person to have negative emotions, it is how they react to the event. So then, it is up to the individual to control their thoughts which transform into their emotions.



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