Cognitive Distortions

The following list was first developed by Dr. David Burns.

Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts that can influence your emotions. Everyone experiences cognitive distortions to some degree, but in their more extreme forms they can be harmful. Learn more as you watch this short video.

There are many different types of identified cognitive distortions. Below is a list of some of the more common distortions along with a description and short explanatory videos:

Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. One might believe their own achievements are unimportant, or that their mistakes are excessively important.

Catastrophizing: Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation.

Overgeneralization: Making broad interpretations from a single or few events. “I felt awkward during my job interview. I am always so awkward.”

Magical Thinking: The belief that acts will influence unrelated situations. “I am a good person-bad things shouldn’t happen to me.”

Personalization: The belief that one is responsible for events outside of their own control. “My mom is always upset. She would be fine if I did more to help her.”

Jumping to Conclusions: Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence.

Mind Reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence. “She would not go on a date with me. She probably things I’m ugly.”

Fortune Telling: The expectation that a situation will turn out badly without adequate evidence.

Emotional Reasoning: The assumption that emotions reflect the ways things really are. “I feel like a bad friend, therefore I must be a bad friend.”

Discounting the Positives: Recognizing only the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive. One might receive many compliments on an evaluation but focus on the single piece of negative feedback.

“Should” Statements: The belief that things should be a certain way. “I should always be friendly.”

All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking absolutes such as “always”, “never”, or “every”. “I never do a good enough job on anything.”

Mental Filter: Is dwelling on the negatives. Only focusing on the negatives of an event instead of looking at the positives of that event.

Copyright © 1980 by David D. Burns, M.D. Adapted from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (New York: William Morrow Company, 1980; Signet, 1981)

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