If there are many explanatory models of depression, that of Beck’s cognitive triad this is probably the most important of all.
We will review all the concepts involved in this author’s approach and the role these three elements play in the overall theory he developed to explain a psychological pathology as common in the population as depression.
What is Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Triad?
When we talk about Beck’s cognitive triad, we mean the core of an important theory developed in 1976 by author Aaron Temkin Beck, an American psychiatrist. The concept is the main element of the cognitive theory of depression, A model designed by Beck to try to explain and predict the causes of this pathology.
Thus, Beck’s cognitive triad, also known as the negative cognitive triad, would be made up of three elements related to the belief system which are those that anticipate possible depression in the individual. These elements would be negative thoughts about himself, a negative view of the world around him, and desperate thoughts about the near future.
A totally dark vision of yourself, your environment and your future. This is Beck’s cognitive triad, the three things that a person views so unfavorably that their mood is affected to the point where they run the risk of being affected by the psychological illness of depression.
Why is this happening? Because of the systems people use to filter all the information that is constantly coming to us. In the case of a person with a negative view of the three elements that make up Beck’s cognitive triad, their projects will aim to collect only the stimuli that correspond to this catastrophic view of life. In other words, you will only see the negative side of everything that is going on around you.
It will only send back those same patterns, giving you more reason to believe and gradually slipping into a depressive state which may worsen until you have fully developed the pathology of depression. At this point, the person will likely need the help of a professional psychologist to overcome this disorder and regain the mood they were in before acquiring this condition.
We have seen that people affected by Beck’s cognitive triad tend to use a series of biases that cause the individual to only capture negative cutoff information, thereby deepening their condition. Let’s take a closer look at the types of cognitive distortions that occur during this process.
1. Excessive generalization
The first distortion that usually falls and affects Beck’s cognitive triad is overgeneralization. The name is pretty descriptive on its own. What the person tends to do is take an isolated (negative) fact as an example of what is always happening., To justify that all the events concerning him, his environment or his future are hopeless.
2. Dichotomous thinking
These people are more likely to fall into a dichotomous thought, that is to say consider that there are only two extreme options in relation to a given subjectInstead of stopping to wonder if there are intermediate possibilities that are not so catastrophic. It is the classic “either white or black”, in which the subject does not realize that there is a whole level of gray in the central part, which contains a multitude of solutions to the question which preoccupies him.
It is easy to detect such distortions, as topics that fall into them tend to always speak in total terms like all or nothing, always or never, all or nothing. The problem is that in a lot of cases you tend to fall into a false dilemma because it brings up situations where you have to choose between two options as if they were the only ones possible.
3. Arbitrary inferences
Beck’s cognitive triad can also be aggravated by arbitrary inferences. These cognitive distortions imply that the subject, instead of carrying out a complete reasoning on the situation in front of him, chooses to take a shortcut and draw a hasty conclusion generally negative, either with regard to it, or with regard to an element of its environment, or with regard to its future prospects.
By arbitrary inference, a person may consider that a particular behavior of another individual was committed with the intention of harming him, even though in reality there is no objective evidence to prove it.
4. Magnification and minimization
The other most common biases that depressed people use and therefore have to do with Beck’s cognitive triad are those of magnification or minimization. They are related to this dichotomous thinking that we saw earlier. In this case, the individual tended to exaggerate, either in excess or in default, the characteristics of a certain event, always in the negative sense towards it.
Here you can also see the catastrophic view, as the person will magnify or minimize the characteristics of the event, usually making it bigger when negative towards them and making it smaller when positive, staying that way. with the feeling that, indeed, only bad things happen to her and when they are good, they have little relevance in her life.
5. Selective abstraction
Selective abstraction has already been observed in approaches to other cognitive distortions related to Beck’s cognitive triad, as it is in fact an underlying mechanism in many of them. consists of select only those elements of the information we receive that correspond to our beliefs. In this case, it will be all those negative elements that correspond to the idea that everything in me is wrong, everything around me is wrong, or whatever is to come is bad.
As we can see, this is one of the main ideas Beck raises in his cognitive theory of depression, so this distortion is particularly important for understanding the implications of Beck’s cognitive triad.
The last of the cognitive distortions that we are going to review is that of personalization, a frequent phenomenon by which individuals suffering from depression seem to tend to attribute certain phenomena to themselves or to people around them. In other words, they think that they (or other people) are directly responsible for the events that negatively affect their person, even if there is no such relationship or if it is much more diffuse than they. don’t think so.
This mechanism is also known as that of false attribution, because indeed individuals wrongly attribute the causality of an event to other people or even to themselves, when the reality is very different and the event has was the consequence of another set of variables which were beyond the control of the wrongly blamed person.
Beck’s cognitive triad assessment
Once we know what Beck’s cognitive triad is and what are the cognitive mechanisms behind this theory, we need to ask ourselves how we can assess or assess these elements in a particular person. This is why the author developed the Beck Depression Inventory, also known as BDI or BDI-II, in its most recent version.
This tool is a questionnaire made up of 21 items before which the subject will have to choose to what extent each statement corresponds to him, from nothing to totally (there are four degrees in total). Through the answers, the psychologist will be able to obtain information on the elements of Beck’s cognitive triad that are most affected in this person and therefore estimate the severity of the depression from which he is suffering.
It is an extremely useful tool, as it requires very little application time (usually 15 minutes is more than enough) and can also be self-administered by the same person. Most important is the valuable information provided by the professional, who, thanks to the results and his clinical observation, will be able to assess the direction he must take in the therapy aimed at obtaining the greatest possible patient improvement.
This is not the only scale designed to assess Beck’s cognitive triad. Beckham and coworkers created the Cognitive Triad Inventory, or CTI, in 1986. This tool has 30 questions, 10 for each of the elements of the triad (the person, the world, and the future). In addition, Kaslow decided in 1992 to make an adaptation to be able to apply this scale to the infant population, thus creating the CTI-C. In this case, it contains 36 elements.
- Beck, AT (1963). Thinking and Depression: I. Idiosyncratic Content and Cognitive Distortions. Archives of general psychiatry.
- Beck, AT, Rush, AJ, Shaw, BF, Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy for depression. Guilford Series of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy.
- Beckham, EE, Leber, WR, Watkins, JT, Boyer, JL, Cook, JB (1986). Development of an instrument to measure Beck’s cognitive triad: The Cognitive Triad Inventory. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
- Kaslow, NJ, Stark, KD, Printz, B., Livingston, R., Ling Tsai, S. (1992). Inventory of cognitive choices for children: development and relationship with depression and anxiety. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology. Taylor and Francis.