Arbitrary inference: characteristics of this cognitive bias

Each of us has our own way of seeing the world, of explaining ourselves and the reality around us. We observe and receive environmental data through our senses, to later make sense of, interpret and respond to them.

But in interpretation, a lot of mental processes come into play: we use our mental patterns, beliefs, knowledge and previous experiences to understand them. And sometimes our interpretation is biased and distorted for some reason. One of the prejudices that we usually apply in our everyday life is arbitrary inference..

    Cognitive biases

    Arbitrary inference is one of the various cognitive biases or distortions, which are understood as that type of error in which the subject misinterprets reality as a product of beliefs derived from experiences or treatment patterns learned throughout life.

    For example, cognitive distortions are those which cause prejudices and stereotypes, or which misinterpret the intentions of others towards us or which only consider one or two possible solutions to the same problem instead of thinking about it, solutions intermediate or different.

    The individual generates an explanation of the world or of himself based on false premisesThis can lead you to make various misinterpretations and can affect the way you act. Among these biases we can find selective abstraction, dichotomous thinking, personalization, overgeneralization, minimization or maximization, or arbitrary inference.

      Arbitrary inference

      When we talk about arbitrary inference, we are talking about the type of cognitive distortion in which the subject comes to a certain conclusion about a fact without any data to support that conclusion or even in the presence of information to the contrary.

      The person in question he does not use the available evidence, but quickly jumps to interpret the situation in a certain way, often because of their own expectations, beliefs or previous experiences.

      For example, we think that someone wants to harm and discredit us because they have shown disagreement with our opinion, that we will fail a test regardless of what we are studying, that someone wants to sleep with us because ‘she smiled at us, or that a specific number has more or less chance of winning the lottery than another because this number coincides with the day of a birthday or anniversary.

      Arbitrary inference is a very common mistake in most people, and serves as a cognitive shortcut that saves us energy and time by processing information in more detail. Sometimes it is even possible that we come to a correct conclusion, but it would not have been worked out from the available information.

      Influence on mental disorders

      Arbitrary inference is a type of cognitive distortion that we all can and do from time to time. However, their usual appearance can distort our behavior and our way of interpreting reality.

      Along with other cognitive distortions, arbitrary inference emerges as a distortion that participates in the generation and maintenance of maladaptive thought patterns in multiple mental disorders.

      1. Depression

      From a cognitive-behavioral point of view, in particular Beck’s cognitive theory, it is considered that cognitive impairment in depressed patients is generated by the activation of negative and dysfunctional thought patterns, these thoughts being due to cognitive distortions such as than arbitrary inference.

      These distortions in turn lead to the problem of persisting because they make alternative interpretations difficult. For example, a patient may think it is useless and will not achieve anything even though there is information that indicates otherwise.

      2. Psychotic disorders

      One of the most well-known symptoms of psychotic disorders is the existence of hallucinations and delusions. If the latter can be more or less systematized, the fact is that the various aspects which could contradict the belief of the subject are not taken into account and it is common that an intention or a fact is arbitrarily inferred from another which does not. not because they have no connection. For example, the idea that they are chasing us may begin with observing a nervous subject in the street.

        3. Anxiety disorders and phobias

        Anxiety is another of the problems associated with cognitive distortions such as arbitrary inference. In anxiety panic arises in anticipation of possible damage, Damage or situation that may or may not occur in the future.

        As with anxiety, phobias have a stimulus, group of stimuli, or situations that cause us to panic. This panic can stem from the belief that if we get close to this stimulus, we will be harmed. For example, by arbitrarily deducing that if a dog approaches, he will bite me.

        4. Personality disorders

        Personality is the relatively stable and consistent pattern of ways of thinking, interpreting, and acting in front of us and the world. In many personality disorders, such as paranoia, there are biased interpretations of reality which may be due to processes such as arbitrary inference.

        Solution through therapies?

        While arbitrary inference is not a disorder, in cases where it arises in a psychopathological context in which you believe or hold the problem, there is a need to reduce or eliminate the bias that this cognitive distortion causes.

        Cognitive restructuring is often used for this as a method by which the patient combats thoughts derived from arbitrary inference and other distortions and learns not to realize these distortions. It is about helping to find alternatives that are just as valid as one’s own, discussing the causes of such thoughts or what they are based on, researching and comparing the available information.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Beck, A. (1976). Cognitive therapy and emotional disorders. International university press. New York.

        • Sants, JL; Garcia, LI; Calderon, MA; Sanz, LJ; of rivers, P .; Left, S .; Román, P .; Hernangómez, L .; Navas, E .; Lladre, A and Álvarez-Cienfuegos, L. (2012). Clinical Psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 02. CEDE. Madrid.

        • Yurita, CL and DiTomasso, RA (2004). Cognitive distortions. In A. Freeman, SH Felgoise, AM Nezu, CM Nezu, MA Reinecke (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. 117-121. Springer

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