Skip main navigation

What are common cognitive distortions?

Here we explain twelve common cognitive distortions, what they are and how they may affect people in different ways
Young girl in birthday t-shirt
© University of East Anglia

Below are twelve common cognitive distortions and how they may affect people in different ways.

1 All-or-Nothing Thinking

All-or-Nothing Thinking (Black-and-White Thinking) is seen in statements that use absolute terms such as “always, never, completely, totally, or perfectly.” Leaves no room for middle ground or exceptions. Often used to suggest you are a failure if your performance falls short of standards.

2 Blaming ourselves or others

Blaming ourselves or someone else or a situation for set-back, mistake or problem instead of using it as an opportunity to learn.

3 Catastrophising

This is a building of up consequences to an event so that they seem insufferable or particularly horrible.

4 Minimising (and maximising)

“The binocular trick” happens when we enlarge our shortcomings or someone else’s accomplishments while shrinking our accomplishments or someone else’s shortcomings.

5 Fortune telling/jumping to conclusions

This occurs as unfounded, usually dire predictions that are made as if they are already fact.

6 Labelling

This is an extreme form of overgeneralisation whereby a negative and usually emotionally charge label is attached to a person on the basis of a relatively isolated or insignificant behaviour.

7 Mental filter

This focuses on an aspect, usually negative, of a situation while ignoring the positive. Can also be rejecting the positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count”.

8 Mind reading

This is a prediction about other people’s thoughts or behaviours that is made without checking it out.

9 Overgeneralisation

This is the use of a single negative event as evidence for a never-ending pattern of negative events.

10 Should statements

These are statements that suggest a desire to change some reality when the only real choice is between accepting and not accepting it. Often related to shame/guilt statements.

11 Selective interpretation

This happens when we choose to hear/believe only those statements which meet/fit our own expectations/experience. Situations or facts outside our reality are not recognised.

We have a tendency to selectively take information and use it to fit our own reality.

12 Personalisation

This happens when we interpret an event or a situation as having special meaning (usually negative) for only ourselves.

© University of East Anglia
This article is from the free online

Anxiety in Children and Young People during COVID-19

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education