Thinking Errors in Depression

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional

During states of depression some of the symptoms that emerge point to mistakes in logic. Negative beliefs are reinforced by these mistakes which are characterized by ignoring or discounting any evidence that runs contrary to the depressed person's views. In this Sharepost I outline some of the thinking errors and other process errors that frequently accompany depression.

Selective abstraction: refers to a type of thinking where a particular detail becomes the focus of attention and all other important information that might also be present is dismissed. The nature of this thinking error is such that it inevitably reinforces the most negative aspects rather than picking out aspects that could lead to a different conclusion.

Dichotomous thinking: sometimes referred to as all or nothing, or black and white thinking, refers to a pattern of thought where the depressed person views things as entirely positive or negative. This form of rigid thinking error pushes interpretations to extremes, rarely leaving room for a more balanced perspective.

Personalization: is the process of blaming oneself for events that are actually determined by other factors. For example, seeing the worried expression on the face of another person might be interpreted as anger directed at the depressed person. Even bad weather or car breakdowns can be viewed as things conspiring to make the person feel worse than they already do.

Memory for events: this isn't so much a thinking error as what's known as a process error. It is well documented that people who are depressed have much greater difficulty in recalling very specific information. When asked for specific details (for example during an interview or when completing certain kinds of form) the person tends to offer up rather vague information rather than details they should easily recall.

Depressive rumination: involves a pattern of persistent, repetitive thoughts that the depressed person has about their mental state. Various studies have identified depressive rumination as a core process in both the onset and maintenance of depression. Such studies have found that induction of depressive rumination intensifies depressed mood, increases negative thinking and impairs problem-solving. Rumination is thought to hinder therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and it maintains periods of depression for much longer than forms of distraction, which are considered to shorten the duration of depressive episodes.