Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Relationship between Depression Severity and Cognitive Errors

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Relationship between Depression Severity and Cognitive Errors

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DEPRESSION SEVERITY AND COGNITIVE ERRORS

Cognitive errors (CEs) are a key construct in cognitive therapy (CT), especially when assessing, researching, or treating patients suffering from depression. Early on, Beck (1976) outlined specific cognitive errors, including arbitrary inference, selective abstraction, overgeneralization, magnification (catastrophizing) and minimization, personalizing, and absolutistic dichotomous thinking. Burns (1999) defined and outlined the importance of other cognitive errors such as mind-reading, fortune telling, mental filter, all-or-nothing thinking, should statements, discounting the positive, emotional reasoning, and labeling and mislabeling. More recently, Yurica and DiTomasso (2005) conducted a review and identified 17 cognitive distortions common in the literature, including arbitrary inference/jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, comparison, dichotomous/ black-and-white thinking, disqualifying the positive, emotional reasoning, externalizing self-worth, fortune-telling, labeling, magnification, mind reading, minimization, overgeneralization, perfectionism, personalization, selective abstraction, and "should" statements. Despite the availability of definitions for these individual CEs, and suggestions that individual CEs are important to understand depression, studies examining cognitive errors in depression reported findings in terms of a general level of distortion, rather than for specific CEs (e.g., Briere, 2000; Hamblin, Beutler, Scogin, & Corbishley, 1993; Monroe, Slavich, Torres, & Gotlib, 2007; Tang, DeRubeis, Beberman, & Pham, 2005).

Exceptions to this include a study by Wenzlaff and Grozier (1988). They examined the use of overgeneralizations in dysphoric and nondysphoric participants who received false negative feedback after a social perceptiveness test. While both groups lowered their self-evaluations of social perceptiveness after receiving the feedback, only the participants with dysphoria lowered their ratings in proficiency judgments. More recently Van den Heuvel, Derksen, Eling, and van der Staak (2012) explored how overgeneralization relates to different mood disorders. The researchers examined tendencies of patients to make overgeneralizations targeted at the self and across situations. Participants diagnosed with major depression and those diagnosed with bipolar disorder were found to exhibit high levels of overgeneralization towards the self. However, only patients with bipolar disorder demonstrated elevated levels of overgeneralizations across situations. This study is of particular importance because it demonstrates subtle differences among patients regarding a specific CE, and it highlights the need to explore specific types of cognitive errors.

Wenzlaff's and Grozier's (1988) study was particularly important in that it examined the CE, magnification/minimization, which is the tendency to evaluate oneself, others, or a situation in a way that magnifies or minimizes the negative or positive aspects (Drapeau et al., 2008). Consistent with Beck's theory of depression, dysphoric participants rated social perceptiveness to be more important when they were given failure feedback on the task. Participants who were not dysphoric rated the task as more important when they received successful feedback on the task. This finding is consistent with Ellis' theory (1980) that individuals who are depressed tend to "awfulize" or magnify the unpleasantness of situations. However, Wenzlaff's and Grozier's finding does not necessarily illustrate that participants with dysphoria committed an "error" that was disproportionate to the demands of the situation; it demonstrated that they responded differently to the feedback than did nondepressed controls. Additionally, the participants with dysphoria in Wenzlaff and Grozier's study did not minimize the importance of their success on social perceptiveness (relative to controls) as Beck's theory postulates they would. …

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