Cognitive Etiology

Cognitive Etiology
Major Depressive disorder
Key concept
The way we think, influences
the way we feel and therefore
can cause mood disorders.
What types of cognitions lead to
major depressive disorder?
 Faulty attributions-”My boyfriend didn’t call me
because he doesn’t love me”
 Cognitive distortions-”My life is terrible because I
missed the bus this morning”
 Irrational beliefs-”My work must be perfect”. “My essay
did not get a level 7, I must be stupid”
Attributional Theory of Depression
(Abramson et al 1978)
 Main Ideas:
 An attribution is an explanation of why something
 Depression results from the types of attributions people
make-the explanations they give their own behaviour
and situation.
Theory in detail
Depressed people view failure in the following ways:
 Causes are internal (blaming themselves not the situation).
 Situations are stable (showing extreme pessimism about the
 Failure as global (not specific to one situation).
 In other words ‘its me, its going to last forever and everything
I do will go wrong’.
 This type of attribution leads to feelings of helplessness thus
 Metalsky et al 1987
 Students who did badly on a Psychology exam. Two days
after those that attributed their failure to internal,
stable and global causes continued to be depressed.
Students who made different attributions did not (I
wasn’t feeling well, difficult etc).
 (+) Plausible and supported by a large body of evidence.
 (-) Does the attribution precede or follow depression?
Most researchers believe it precedes it. Sexual abuse in
childhood, overprotective parents and harsh discipline
has all been linked. Rose et al 1994.
 (-) Evidence from humans is from college based
laboratory experiments. Artificial and unrepresentative.
 (-) Much evidence comes from answers to the
Attributional Style Questionnaire. Forces people into
this kind of thinking.
Aaron Beck’s 1967 cognitive
theory of depression.
The theory in general:
 Depressed people think differently about themselves
and the world around them. They have a depressive way
of viewing and representing the world.
 It is based on schema processing where stored schemas
about the self interfere with information processing.
Schemas influence the way people make sense of
 People have negative cognitive schemas-depressogenic
Seeing the self in negative terms can lead to errors in
thinking. For example:
 Arbitrary inference- drawing conclusions without
evidence, particularly about the self.
 Selective abstraction-forming conclusions from an
isolated detail while ignoring contradictory evidence.
 Overgeneralizations-drawing conclusions from a
particular event and applying it generally.
Arbitrary Inference
 A person draws the
wrong conclusioneven when there is no
evidence to support
these wrong
 Can you think of an
Selective Abstraction
 A person focuses on
small negative details
and ignores the bigger
Can you think of an
 A person draws global
conclusions about
himself/herself based
on one single event
 Can you think of an
The Negative Cognitive triad
Negative thoughts and errors in thinking
can produce a negative cognitive
Negative view of:
 the self
 the world
 the future
The Negative Cognitive Triad
views about:
The world
The future
How do people form
depressogenic schemas?
 Use p55 of the PDF study guide to find out
 Boury et al (2001)
 Lewinshohn et al (2001)
 Use p55 of the PDF study guide to outline the
above studies:
 A prospective study Alloy et al (1999)
 Use p154 of the textbook:
 What is a prospective study?
 Aim
 Method
 Findings
Evaluation of Beck
 (+) Supported by plenty of evidence. Research indicates that
depressed people have more negative thoughts about
themselves, the world and the future. They are more likely to
make the errors identified.
 ( ?? ) Does negative thinking precede and contribute to the
onset OR follow and maintain depression?
 What does the evidence tell us?
 Do some independent research to find out what the
Beck Depression Inventory is.
 If depression is caused by cognitive style, how
should it be treated?
More Evaluation
 Therapies based on the cognitive explanation have been
very effective
 However, we have to be aware of the Treatment
Etiology Fallacy.
 This when people assume that the success of a
treatment reveals the cause of the disorder.