Becks cognitive triad: what is this theoretical model of depression?
Aaron Beck's cognitive triad is one of the most famous explanatory models of depression.
Although there are many explanatory models for depression, that of the Beck's cognitive triad is probably the most important of all.
We will review all the concepts involved in this author's approach and the role that these three elements play within the overall theory he developed as a way of explaining such a common psychological pathology among the population as depression.
What is Aaron Beck's cognitive triad?
When we speak of Beck's cognitive triad we refer to the core of an important theory developed in 1976 by the 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.a model designed by Beck to try to explain and predict the causes of this pathology.
Therefore, Beck's cognitive triad, which is also known as the negative cognitive triad, would be made up of three elements related to the belief system that anticipate a possible depression in the individual. These elements would be the negative thoughts towards himself, the negative view towards the world around him and the hopeless thoughts about the future that is approaching.
A totally desolating vision about the person himself, about his environment and about his future.. That is Beck's cognitive triad, the three elements that the person sees in such an unfavorable light that his mood is affected to the point of being at risk of being affected by the psychological illness of depression.
Why does this happen? Because of the schemas that people use to filter all the information that constantly comes to us. In the case of a person with a negative vision in the three elements that make up Beck's cognitive triad, his schemas will be oriented to collect only the stimuli that fit with that catastrophic vision, their schemas will be oriented to collect only the stimuli that fit with this catastrophic vision of life.. In other words, he will only see the negative side of everything that happens around him.
This will only feed back those same schemes, giving him more reasons to believe in them and gradually plunging him into a depressive state that may worsen until he has fully developed the pathology of depression. At this point, the person will probably need the help of a professional psychologist to be able to overcome this disorder and recover the mood he/she had before acquiring this pathology.
We have seen that people affected by Beck's cognitive triad tend to use a series of biases that cause the individual to only grasp negative information, thus deepening his or her condition. Let's go deeper into the types of cognitive distortions that occur during this process.
The first common distortion that affects Beck's cognitive triad is overgeneralization. The name is quite descriptive in itself. What the person tends to do is to take an isolated event (of a negative nature) as an example of what is always the case, as a way of justifying that all events are negative.as a way of justifying that all events concerning him, his environment or his future are hopeless.
2. Dichotomous thinking
These people also tend to fall into dichotomous thinking, i.e., to consider that there are only two extreme They tend to think that there are only two extreme options with respect to a given issueinstead of stopping to think about whether there are intermediate possibilities that are not so catastrophic. It is the classic "black or white", in which the subject does not realize that there is a whole scale of grays in the central part, which harbors a multitude of solutions to the issue that concerns him.
It is easy to detect this type of distortion, since the subjects who fall into it tend to always speak in total terms such as all or nothing, always or never, all or none. The problem is that on many occasions they tend to fall into a false dilemma, since they pose situations in which they have to decide between two options as if they were the only possible ones.
3. Arbitrary inferences
Beck's cognitive triad can also be worsened by arbitrary inferences. These cognitive distortions imply that the subject, instead of carrying out a complete reasoning about the situation at hand, chooses to take a shortcut and establish a hasty conclusion that is generally negative either towards him, towards some element of his environment or towards his future prospects. a shortcut and establish a hasty conclusion that is generally negative, either towards him, towards some element of his environment or towards his future prospects..
Through arbitrary inferences, a person may consider that a given conduct of another individual has been carried out with the intention of harming him, although in reality there is no objective element to prove it.
4. Magnification and minimization
Another of the most frequent biases that depressive people use and that therefore have to do with Beck's cognitive triad are those of magnification or minimization. They are related to the dichotomous thinking we saw earlier. In this case, the individual will tend to exaggerating, either too much or too little, the characteristics of a given event, always in the direction that is negative towards him/her..
Here we can also observe the catastrophic vision, since the person will magnify or minimize the characteristics of the event, generally making it bigger when it is negative towards him and making it smaller when it is positive, thus keeping the feeling that, in fact, only bad things happen to him and when they are good, they are hardly relevant in his life.
5. Selective abstraction
Selective abstraction has already been observed in the approaches to other cognitive distortions related to Beck's cognitive triad, since it is actually a mechanism underlying many of them. It consists of selecting only those elements of the information we receive that conform to our beliefs.. In this case it will be all those negative components that fit with the idea that everything in me is bad, everything around me is bad or everything that is coming is bad.
As we can see, this is one of the main ideas put forward by Beck in his cognitive theory of depression, so this distortion is especially important when it comes to understanding the implications of Beck's cognitive triad.
The last of the cognitive distortions that we will review is that of personalization, a frequent phenomenon whereby individuals suffering from depression seem to tend to attribute certain phenomena to themselves or to the people around them.. That is, they think that they (or other people) are directly responsible for events that negatively affect them, even though this relationship does not exist or is much more diffuse than they believe.
This mechanism is also known as false attribution, since individuals erroneously attribute the causality of an event to other people or even to themselves, when the reality is very different and the event has been the consequence of another series of variables that are beyond the control of the person who has been unfairly blamed.
Evaluation of Beck's cognitive triad
Once we are clear about what Beck's cognitive triad consists of and what the cognitive mechanisms underlying this theory are, it is worth asking how we can assess or evaluate these elements in a specific person. To this end, the author developed the Beck Depression Inventory, also known as the BDI or BDI-II, in its most updated version.
This tool is a questionnaire composed of 21 items to which the subject must choose the degree to which each statement fits him, from not at all to totally (there are four degrees in total). Through the answers, the psychologist will be able to obtain information about the elements of Beck's cognitive triad that are most affected in this person and therefore estimate how severe the depression he/she is suffering from is.
This is an extremely useful tool, as it requires very little application time (generally 15 minutes is more than enough) and can also be self-administered by the person him/herself. The most important thing is the valuable information it provides to the professional, who, thanks to the results and his clinical observation, will be able to assess the direction to take in the therapy aimed at achieving the greatest possible improvement in the patient.
It is not the only scale designed to assess Beck's cognitive triad. Beckham and his collaborators 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 child population, thus creating the CTI-C. In this case it has 36 items.
- Beck, A.T. (1963). Thinking and depression: I. Idiosyncratic content and cognitive distortions. Archives of general psychiatry.
- Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F., Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. Guilford clinical psychology and psychotherapy series.
- Beckham, E.E., Leber, W.R., Watkins, J.T., Boyer, J.L., Cook, J.B. (1986). Development of an instrument to measure Beck's cognitive triad: The Cognitive Triad Inventory. Journal of consulting and Clinical Psychology.
- Kaslow, N.J., Stark, K.D., Printz, B., Livingston, R., Ling Tsai, S. (1992). Cognitive Triad Inventory for Children: Development and relation to depression and anxiety. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology. Taylor & Francis.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)