Handbook of Cognition and Emotion

By Tim Dalgleish; Mick J. Power | Go to book overview

Chapter 29
Attributional Theories
of Emotion

Ian H. Gotlib
Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA and
Lynn Y. Abramson
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

Over the past two decades, theorists and researchers alike have become increasingly interested in trying to understand the nature of the links between cognitive and emotional functioning. Indeed, the publication of this Handbook is clear evidence of this endeavor. As part of this general trend, investigators interested in clinical phenomena have begun to examine more specifically the association between biased cognitive functioning and emotional disturbance. In this context, a number of researchers have formulated cognitive theories of emotional disorders. These theories, in turn, have provided the impetus for a large body of empirical work examining the nature of the association between cognitive dysfunction and emotional difficulties.

As is described in detail in several other chapters in this volume, a number of these theories focus on the content, structure and function of schemata of individuals who are experiencing such emotional disorders as depression and anxiety (e.g. Beck, 1976; Segal, 1988) or on the nature of the cognitive associative networks of depressed or anxious persons (e.g. Bower, 1981). Other cognitive theories of emotional disorders, however, focus more specifically on the ways in which individuals explain their world, the events that happen to them, or even the emotional disturbance itself that they are experiencing. These theories, broadly described as attributional theories, contend that the explanations an individual makes for events, and particularly for negative events, affect both the likelihood that the person will experience emotional distress and the severity and duration of this distress. Indeed, there is a growing consensus among clinical researchers

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