Common Cognitive Distortions: A list of ubiquitous cognitive distortions

Becoming mindful of the common cognitive distortions will help you understand yourself and other people better, and improve your decision making. Here is an excerpt from an article by Alice Boyes for Psychology Today. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Illustrations Credit.

Here are the first ten of the 50 that Boyes briefly discusses in the article.

1. Personalizing.

Taking something personally that may not be personal. Seeing events as consequences of your actions when there are other possibilities. For example, believing someone’s brusque tone must be because they’re irritated with you. (Tips for not personalizing.)

2. Mindreading.

Guessing what someone else is thinking, when they may not be thinking that. [This is one of the more common forms of the “unknown unknown” challenge.]

3. Negative predictions.

Overestimating the likelihood that an action will have a negative outcome. [More information about all this in her book.]

4. Underestimating coping ability.

Underestimating your ability cope with negative events.

5. Catastrophizing.

Thinking of unpleasant events as catastrophes.

6. Biased attention toward signs of social rejection, and lack of attention to signs of social acceptance.

For example, during social interactions, paying attention to someone yawning but not paying the same degree of attention to other cues that suggest they are interested in what you’re saying (such as them leaning in).

7. Negatively biased recall of social encounters.

Remembering negatives from a social situation and not remembering positives. For example, remembering losing your place for a few seconds while giving a talk but not remembering the huge clap you got at the end.

8. Thinking an absence of effusiveness means something is wrong.

Believing an absence of a smiley-face in an email means someone is mad at you. Or, interpreting “You did a good job” as negative if you were expecting “You did a great job.”

9. Unrelenting standards.

The belief that achieving unrelentingly high standards is necessary to avoid a catastrophe. For example, the belief that making any mistakes will lead to your colleagues thinking you’re useless.

10. Entitlement beliefs.

Believing the same rules that apply to others should not apply to you. For example, believing you shouldn’t need to do an internship even if that is the normal path to employment in your industry.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

aliceboyes_0Alice Boyes, Ph.D. has had her research about couples published in leading international journals, including Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Her work focuses on how people can use tips from social, clinical and positive psychology research in their everyday lives and romantic relationships. She is regularly interviewed for magazines and radio about a wide range of social, clinical, positive, and relationships psychology topics. She can be contacted for media interviews by emailing Her book, The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for Fine-Tuning Your Mind and Moving Past Your Stuck Points, was published by TarcherPerigee (March 3, 2015).

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