Cognitive distortions like All-or-nothing thinking, Fortune Teller Error; do they exist in non-depressed people with a low intensity as well or they do not have these things at all? In other way, having cognitive distortions is the root cause of depression or having those distortions with high intensity is actually the root cause of depression?

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    $\begingroup$ It is not clear whether you are making a statement that, or asking whether, cognitive distortions are the root cause of depression. Depression comes in many forms and surely many causes. Lumping it all together in one cause is likely a bad approach. Also, assuming that all forms of depression have the mentioned features is asking for problems. Also, I am pretty sure that various distortions exist in many persons not considered depressed. Humans are not perfect, even when they try to be. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Dec 15, 2015 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael You kinda answered my question. All I'm asking is that cognitive distortions exist in all people with various amount of intensities? $\endgroup$
    – Arslan Ali
    Dec 16, 2015 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ While I may not have official evidence to back up the statement, I am nearly positive that cognitive distortions exist in nearly everyone to varying degrees. I am also under the impression that some people with depression may have less cognitive distortion on various topics. There are many hopeless problems in this world for which there is no solution in sight, and the happiest thing to do is to ignore these problems. Might is right is a common saying that highlights the idea that history is inaccurately re-written by the those with the most power, regardless of morality or truth. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Dec 16, 2015 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ Another key point to consider is that depressed persons may have troubled thinking as a result of their depression, but this does not mean that the person's thinking before becoming depressed had anything distorted or illogical about it. It would be a folly to blame the result of depression for being the cause of depression. For example, if a person got in an auto accident and ended up with motor problems, would it be correct to blame the accident on these motor problems that resulted from the accident? $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Dec 16, 2015 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ Elaborating on Michael's first point - a good idea would be to research 'depressive realism' and concerned experiments. It holds that in some cases, depressed persons can make more accurate inferences then their non-depressed counterparts. However, these rose-tinted glass that non-depressed people see through are evolutionary adaptive. Take a hypothetical example of getting into a program with a 5% acceptence rate - a depressed person may accurately predict that he or she is not likely to get in. However, the "deluded" positive person will attempt to make the cut although sucess is unlikely. $\endgroup$
    – Vakalate
    Dec 17, 2015 at 1:13

1 Answer 1


The short answer is yes.

While research has indicated that anxiety, stress or depression can lead to cognitive distortions (Panourgia & Comoretto, 2017), they can exist without it (Gilbert, 1998).

It is suggested that cognitive distortions are natural consequences of using fast track defensive algorithms that are sensitive to threat. In various contexts, especially those of threat, humans evolved to think adaptively rather than logically. Hence cognitive distortions are not strictly errors in brain functioning and it can be useful to inform patients that ‘negative thinking’ may be dysfunctional but is a reflection of basic brain design and not personal irrationality.


Many forms of cognitive distortion can be seen to use the (previously) adaptive heuristic of better safe than sorry.

If the cognitive distortions are developed without stress, depression, or anxiety, and they are not corrected, thinking can eventually be more distorted and lead to one or more of these mental health problems.

A cognitive distortion is an assumption we make based on minimal evidence, or without considering all the evidence. Conspiracy theorists are often found to have cognitive distortions.

HealthLine points out that:

In the 1960s, psychiatrist Aaron Beck pioneered research on cognitive distortions in his development of a treatment method known as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Since then, researchers have identified at least 10 common distorted thinking patterns

These are:

  • Polarised Thinking
    Sometimes called All-or-nothing or black and white thinking because there is no middle ground (no grey areas). When you’re convinced that some people are just doomed to always fail while others are destined for success, that the people in general are either good or evil, you’re probably engaging in polarised thinking.
  • Overgeneralisation
    Can be similar to and part of polarised thinking, but it is where you reach a conclusion about one event and then incorrectly apply that conclusion to everything else in life.
  • Catastophising
    This is where people either dread or assume the worst when faced with the unknown.
  • Personalisation
    Taking things personally when they’re not connected to or caused by you at all.
  • Mind Reading
    Assuming you know what others are thinking.
  • Mental Filtering
    Ignoring positives and focusing exclusively on negatives.
  • Discounting the Positive
    Like mental filtering, you are discounting the positive and having a negative bias in thinking. People who tend to discount the positive don’t ignore or overlook something positive. Instead, they explain it away as a fluke or sheer luck.
  • "Should" statements
    “Should” and “ought” statements are often used by the thinker to take on a negative view of their life. Examples could be, "I should have known that!" or "I ought to have done that instead!"
  • Emotional Reasoning
    The belief that the way you feel about a situation is a reliable indicator of reality.
  • Labelling
    Where prejudices often come from. It is where people reduce themselves or other people to a single — usually negative — characteristic or descriptor, like “drunk” or “failure”.

Therapy can be a good resource to deal with cognitive distortions. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is touted as the best form of therapy to deal with cognitive distortions, but as I pointed out in another answer, among other reasons discussed why CBT may not be suitable for everyone,

The Countess of Mar in the House of Lords suggested the results of a trial into the effectiveness of CBT and GET (graded exercise therapy) had been artificially inflated (BACP, 2013)


BACP. (2013). Policy. Therapy Today, 24(2), p. 52. https://www.bacp.co.uk/bacp-journals/therapy-today/archive/

Gilbert, P. (1998). The evolved basis and adaptive functions of cognitive distortions. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 71(4), 447-463. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8341.1998.tb01002.x

Panourgia, C., & Comoretto, A. (2017). Do cognitive distortions explain the longitudinal relationship between life adversity and emotional and behavioural problems in secondary school children?. Stress and Health, 33(5), 590-599. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2743

  • $\begingroup$ What is the difference between cognitive distortion and heuristic? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Oct 25, 2021 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Ooker maybe you could ask that in a separate question? 🙂 $\endgroup$ Oct 25, 2021 at 9:10

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