Selective abstraction: what is this cognitive bias and how it works

The following exercise is a classic. There is a glass on a table half full and we asked people if they saw it as half full or half empty.

Some will say one thing and some will say another, of course, but what does that have to do with real life?

The truth is, people who see the glass half empty seem to focus more on the negative than the positive, and this worldview can be applied to other areas of their lives.

Selective abstraction it is the act of seeing and giving more importance to the negative aspects of things than to their positive qualities. It has a lot to do with self-esteem and it is a way of looking at life that can take a toll on a person’s daily life. Let’s examine this style of thinking in more detail.

    What is selective abstraction?

    Selective abstraction, also known as filtering, is cognitive distortion, What happens when the negative aspects are considered more relevant than the positive ones. Although there are both good and bad things in a situation, it is better to see the bad and, moreover, they are magnified. It is a style of thinking that is given automatically, without the person giving careful thought to whether or not they really give it more importance than in some negative situation.

    This way of thinking usually appears in people who have been raised in environments where the weaknesses of each person or situation are highlighted, instead of also focusing on virtues and strengths. The person ends up assimilating this way of analyzing reality, applying it in his daily life and only seeing the glass half empty.

    In addition, people who think this way justify it by believing that by looking at the negatives, they will be less likely to feel disappointed or even to feel better at detecting the mistakes of others, especially because they have low self-esteem. self.

    People who apply selective abstraction in their lives often see themselves as more objective and analytical, believing that only the bad should be the center of attention to correct it, when the positive is unnecessary.

    How to apply this cognitive distortion to everyday life?

    It is quite common for people who apply this distortion in their daily life to be irritated and have low self-esteem. Often they have a whole catalog in mind of what they dislike, support or scandalize. If someone does something wrong, even by mistake, they can see it as terrible aggression. Come whatever the others do wrong, watching and noticing the satiety.

    As we have mentioned, in addition to applying it to other people, those who apply selective abstraction also do it on themselves, appearing particularly unnecessary and only feeling satisfied if they see other people. also make mistakes.

    Seeing all the bad in the world, people with this style of thinking end up putting together what, colloquially, we would say from a movie in their heads. They anticipate the negative consequences of a given actionJust look at the bad things they’ve seen and assume it’s going to get worse.

      some examples

      To try to see more clearly the concept of selective abstraction, we will look at a number of examples easily understood about how this type of cognitive distortion works:

      The bus arrives late

      We are at the bus stop and see that it is taking longer than usual. We immediately considered the possibility of the driver being totally incompetent, not caring about the users of the service, not bothering to keep passengers waiting, not bother to delay people. .. instead of thinking that, maybe today’s traffic is fatal.

      After all these rumors we get angrier and angrierAnticipate the negative consequences of delay, such as the one that the boss will criticize us upon arriving at the office. We also get mad at ourselves, telling ourselves how irresponsible we are for not getting up early and avoiding all of this.

      I was not greeted by a classmate

      We are walking down the street and it turns out that in the distance we see a classmate and greet him, but he does not greet us.

      Instead of considering the possibility that he just didn’t see us or that, being against the light, he didn’t know how to recognize us and believed that the welcome was not for him, we started to reflect. to all the Decalogue of possible negative reasons. who made this possible.

      We think that we fall for him badly, that in class he speaks to us simply out of interest, or that he is socially obliged to do so, That we are not popular, that we generate rejection towards others …

      The child failed in math

      Our son brings us the marks of the term and we see that he has failed in math. Immediately we scold him, telling him that it wouldn’t happen if he studied more, that video games are to blame, that he isn’t careful enough, that why he didn’t come out like his older brother who is an engineer, and so on.

      By this example, we don’t mean that the fact that a topic has been suspended shouldn’t be ignored or that nothing should be done to prevent it from happening again. You better ask yourself what happened and consider going to school reinforcement. However, just as the child has difficulty with numbers, he can have several strengths, such as having a very good grade in art.

      By focusing on the evil of math failure, we ignore the child’s artistic talents, castrating his desire to be a major painter in favor of an obsession with passing the suspended subject.

      How to overcome this cognitive bias

      Overcoming such a lifelong cognitive distortion is no easy task. Have this mentality and always try to see the positive side of things, valuing it as it should, it takes a lot of effort and takes a lot of practice.

      Before we categorically decide that something or someone doesn’t appeal to us, let’s think about what we’ve seen for a moment. It is common for first opinions to come quickly and not be properly considered.. Therefore, it is advisable to try to get all possible information about the situation, paying special attention to the positive.

      After so much time looking for the villain and giving him too much exposure, it’s time to make room for the finer things in life. For example, in the face of the loss of a loved one, it is clear that the situation itself is sad and unpleasant, but that does not mean that we have lost the rest of the friendships and family, in which we can find support and understanding. .

      People who suffer from anxiety have a real challenge ahead of them, but once they adjust to this way of seeing the world, they will soon notice its benefits. Reinforce positive thinking, avoiding worst-case thinkingIt can help in a remarkable way to achieve the long-awaited calm.

      If we want to achieve something, anxiety can cripple us and not allow us to achieve our dreams. Not trying is a guaranteed failure. You have to change the chip, think that wanting is power and that at some point it will end up going well. In addition, failure should be seen as a positive thing, as a situation in which we learn from our mistakes.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Leitenberg, H., Yost, LW and Carroll-Wilson, M. (1986). “Negative Cognitive Errors in Children: Questionnaire Development, Normative Data, and Comparisons Between Children With Symptoms of Depression, Low Self-Esteem, and Assessment Anxiety.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, 528-536.
      • Maric, M., Heyne, DA, van Widenfelt, B., M. and Westenberg, PM (2011). “Distorted cognitive processing in young people: the structure of Negative cognitive errors and their associations with anxiety. ”Cognitive Therapy and Research, 35 (1), 11-20.
      • Sundberg, N. (2001). Clinical psychology: theory, practice and research in evolution. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
      • Weems, CF, Berman, SL, Silverman, WK and Saavedra, LM (2001). “Cognitive errors in youth with anxiety disorders: The links between negative cognitive errors and anxiety symptoms.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, 25 (5), 559-575.

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