Human beings change dynamically in various ways. They change physically, socially, and cognitively.
Remember, your childhood days when you were totally confused about certain things? This was because you could not understand them.
Likewise, it was so annoying when you were unable to perform certain physical actions. One of these actions may be your inability to reach out to the kitchen cupboard for your favorite cookie.
Now, try to remember those instances when you used to make houses with pieces of rocks. And you considered sticks as people living inside those houses.
All these changes relate to three categories of development mentioned earlier. These include physical, social, and cognitive development. Physical development is the development of a human being in the prenatal and postnatal periods.
What is the Prenatal and Postnatal period of development?
The prenatal period is a stage where an embryo develops into a fetus. And then the fetus develops into a full-grown baby.
Furthermore, this stage also talks about many environmental factors. Such factors can damage the fetus and interfere with normal patterns of growth. Thus, these factors are known as teratogens.
The teratogens include infectious agents, consumption of over-the-counter drugs, alcohol, and smoking.
Postnatal Period of Development
On the other hand, postnatal development talks about physical growth during infancy. This stage of human development involves perceptual development.
Certain studies showcase that newborns are able to distinguish between various sounds, colors, tastes, and odors.
In a study, two or three days old infants showcased patterns of sucking in response to different sounds of human speech. Furthermore, such kids are also observed turning their eyes and head in the direction of the sound.
Another set of studies showcased six or seven months old infants refusing to crawl across the deep side of a patterned floor to reach their mothers.
After perceptual development, the next stage of human development is cognitive development. Cognitive development is nothing but a change in our ability to understand the world around us.
Initially, the cognitive processes of children and adults were assumed to be similar. However, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget challenged these assumptions.
He challenged the assumptions as a result of observing his own kids as well as other children. Thus, Piaget concluded that children do not think and reason like adults in various aspects.
In other words, their thought processes are quite discrete relative to the adults both in kind and degree. Therefore, Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development constitutes many important insights. These insights have guided many developmental psychologists to undertake further research in this area.
So, let’s understand what is Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, and improvements in Piaget’s theory.
Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is a Stage Theory. The Stage Theory refers to a type of theory proposing that all human beings undergo an orderly and predictable series of changes. However, many psychologists question the basic aspects of Piaget’s Theory including:
human beings undergoing a sequence of stages
such changes taking place from one stage to another at specific ages
changes taking place in a fixed order
Now, these ideas of Piaget’s Theory are questioned on two grounds. The first one refers to the fact that individuals differ from each other in various aspects. And the second one states that the assumption of a high degree of orderliness in human development is not justified.
Now, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development was based on an important assumption called ‘Constructivism’. Constructivism refers to the fact that children are active thinkers. They consistently try to build a more accurate or advanced understanding of the world around them.
In other words, children interact with the surrounding world to develop their knowledge about it. According to Piaget, they build such knowledge through two basic processes:
The first process refers to assimilation. This process involves the inclusion of new knowledge into existing knowledge structures or mental frameworks known as schemas. A schema is nothing but a mental framework or structure that holds knowledge and organizes the same.
The next process refers to accommodation. Accommodation involves changes made in existing schemas or knowledge structures when a child is exposed to new information or experiences.
Say, for instance, a two-year-old child observes cows. Based on such an experience, he builds a schema for cows. This schema relates to the relatively big four-legged animals.
Now, the same kid observes a horse for the very first time. Then, he includes this new information in the existing schema for cows via the assimilation process. As the child encounters more horses, he begins to observe that cows differ from horses in various aspects.
For instance, horses do not have horns and a mound as in cows. They have bushier tails as compared to cows. Thus, the child is able to develop a new schema for horses. Such a modification in the existing knowledge schemas resulting from exposure to new information is known as accommodation.
Jean Piaget suggested that cognitive development in humans is due to the occurrence of assimilation and accommodation. Furthermore, children are consistently making an effort to make sense of the complex world around them. And they are doing this in a better and more accurate manner. This is because the changes in existing knowledge structures happen via assimilation and accommodation.
Given this, let’s take a look at the various stages of cognitive development suggested by Jean Piaget.
Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development
I. Sensorimotor Stage
The Sensory Motor Stage is the first stage of Piaget’s cognitive development theory. During this stage, infants learn that there exists a relationship between the actions they perform and the world around them.
This stage of cognitive development lasts from birth until 18 and 24 months. Further, during this stage, infants find out that they can steer objects and hence generate certain effects.
In other words, children understand the basic concept of cause and effect during the Sensory Motor stage.
For instance, children learn that they can produce sound if they would make certain movements. And one of these movements can include shaking their hands while holding a rattle. Thus, in a way, they start experimenting with different actions.
Children engage in such experiments as they want to observe various effects that such actions generate. Thus, Jean Piaget suggested that infants try to understand the world around them during the entire sensorimotor stage. And they do this only with the help of motor activities and sensory impressions.
Lack of Mental Impressions
However, they do not have the capacity to make use of such mental impressions to portray different objects at this stage. Now, such learning generates some interesting effects.
For instance, a 4-month-old infant will not try to search for the toy if you try hiding it in front of him. This is because such infants consider that anything hidden from view is also hidden from their minds.
However, such infants start searching for hidden objects when such infants grow older. This starts happening when the infant is somewhere around 8 or 9 months of age. In other words, the infants acquire a basic idea of ‘Object Permanence’ by this age. Object permanence refers to the fact that objects continue to exist even when those are hidden from view.
II. Preoperational Stage
The Preoperational Stage of Cognitive Development is the one where a toddler gets the ability to develop mental images of objects. This is unlike the Sensory Motor Stage where the toddlers were unable to develop this ability.
Now, the Preoperational Stage occurs between 18 and 24 months. Furthermore, the toddlers also get the capacity to develop language. This capacity is to the extent that they start thinking in terms of verbal symbols or words.
Thus, such developments mark the beginning of Piaget’s second stage of cognitive development – the Preoperational Stage.
Meaning of Preoperational
The term preoperational means that infants get the ability to create mental images and develop verbal symbols.
However, they lack the ability to use logic and mental operations. Furthermore, the preoperational stage lasts until about age 7. And during this stage, children are able to perform many actions that they were unable to do previously.
For instance, children about the age of 5 or 6 can engage in symbolic play. In such a play, they pretend that one object is another. Like, they might consider a pencil to be a vehicle such as a car or an airplane.
Furthermore, symbolic play consists of three changes. These changes reveal discrete insights about the modification in children’s cognitive abilities during this period.
The first change refers to decentration. In this stage of change, children slowly start making others the recipients of their playful actions rather than themselves. For example, they start making their soft toy take a bath, or comb its hair.
Then comes the second change of decontextualization. In this stage, children substitute one object with the other. They do this to perform some playful action. For instance, a child considers a pencil as an airplane.
Finally, the third change involves integration. This stage of change combines different playful actions into a complex sequence. Such an ability to involve in a more complex set of playful actions indicates that children are growing cognitively.
In other words, children are able to picture one object as another. Furthermore, there are also able to perform playful actions. Like they consider soft toys next to humans who have feelings and thoughts of their own. And to do all of this, children require the ability to think in terms of words.
Thus, the children’s thought processes in the preoperational stage are more advanced relative to those in the sensorimotor stage. However, Piaget suggested that children in the preoperational stage are still immature in various aspects.
Though children in this stage can make use of mental symbols. But their thought processes are somewhat inflexible, illogical, incomplete, and are restricted to specific contexts.
Piaget makes such an argument on the basis of the following two aspects that bring about immaturity in children at the preoperational stage:
It refers to the young children’s incapacity to differentiate their own perspectives from others. In other words, egocentrism is the child’s inability to understand that others may perceive the world in a different way than they do.
b. Lack of Seriation
Seriation refers to the ability of a child to organize objects in a sequence using some dimension or parameter. But, children in the preoperational stage lack seriation.
c. Lack of Understanding of Relative Terms
Children in the preoperational stage lack the ability to understand relative terms like lighter, darker, softer, etc.
In the preoperational stage, children lack an understanding of conservation. Conservation refers to a concept which states that certain physical characteristics of an object do not change. And these characteristics do not change even if the outer appearance of such an object is modified.
III. Stage of Concrete Operations
The stage of concrete operations is a cognitive development stage occurring somewhere around age six or seven. Furthermore, this stage lasts until about the age of eleven.
Thus, during this stage, logical thought starts emerging in children. In other words, challenging things or the underdeveloped capabilities of the preoperational stage start developing in this stage.
Furthermore, children get the capability to solve simple problems. These are the problems that they encounter in the preoperational stage.
Now, Piaget suggests that a child defines the beginning of the stage of concrete operations when he masters the concept of conservation. During this stage, certain important skills start emerging in children. In addition to this, children get the capability to arrange things in order.
Furthermore, they understand the relative terms as mentioned in the previous stage. In addition to this, they start understanding that physical changes done originally can be reversed. And these can be reversed by undoing the original action.
This concept is referred to as reversibility. Besides all of this, Piaget emphasizes that children reaching the stage of concrete operations also start thinking logically.
IV. Stage of Formal Operations
The stage of formal operations is the final stage of cognitive development in Piaget’s theory. Children enter this stage at about the age of twelve. During this stage, major characteristics that define an adult’s thought process start emerging in children.
As we already know, children start thinking logically during the stage of concrete operations. But, such a logical thought is only restricted to concrete events or objects.
In other words, children become aware of the permanence of objects. However, children who reach the stage of formal operations start thinking in an abstract way. The following are the various ways in which children start thinking.
(i) Hypothetico – Deductive Reasoning
Hypothetico – Deductive Reasoning refers to children’s ability to understand concrete or real events and formulate possibilities. These possibilities are nothing but the events or relationships that one can only imagine.
However, such events or relationships do not exist in reality. Furthermore, this concept emphasizes that children get the ability to formulate a hypothesis.
Additionally, they can think logically about ideas, propositions, and symbols. In other words, such type of reasoning involves formulating a generic theory. After forming a generic theory, children come up with a specific hypothesis.
(ii) Inter-Propositional Thinking
Besides Hypothetico – Deductive Reasoning, children also get the capacity to involve in inter-propositional thinking. It is a type of thinking in which a child tries to test whether the propositions formulated are valid or not.
Now, there is no doubt that the thought process of older children or adolescents is somewhere close to that of adults. But, Piaget believed that the thought process of adolescents still lacked the understanding as that of the adults.
The older children use their newly developed reasoning ability to build theories about different aspects. These include theories about human relationships, ethics, or political systems.
Now, though the reasoning behind such opinions may be logical. But the theories that adolescents or older children build are incorrect. This is because young children do not have much experience or knowledge to carry out a sophisticated task.
In addition to this, there is no guarantee that children reaching the stage of formal operations and developing the capability to engage in complex thought processes would in reality be able to think in a sophisticated way. This is because complex thought processes require a great amount of cognitive effort.
Therefore, adolescents and even adults often engage themselves in less advanced modes of thought.
Modern Assessment of Piaget’s Theory
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development provides great insights to a developmental psychologist. But, there was a need to review such a grand theory with the coming up of new evidence.
Therefore, developmental psychologists suggested certain revisions in Piaget’s Theory with regards to three significant areas.
I. Cognitive Abilities of Infants and Preschoolers
The evidence showcases that Jean Piaget underestimated the cognitive abilities of infants as well as young children in many areas. This is because of the research methods that Piaget used.
Thus, these methods made it quite challenging for infants and preschool children to portray their cognitive abilities.
Let’s take a look at two of these abilities:
(i) Object Permanence
Piaget suggested that infants as young as eight or nine months old did not have the capability of Object Permanence. Object Permanence is the ability to understand that the object continues to exist, even if it is hidden from sight.
However, new findings suggest that such incapacity arises from infants’ incapability to understand the concept ‘under’.
Say, for instance, an object is hidden under a cover. So, infants below the age of eight or nine months lack the ability to understand that an object can be placed underneath another object.
Now, suppose that the objects are hidden behind a screen or another object. So, infants as old as four or five months know that the object exists but is hidden from their sight.
Besides this, the new findings also suggest that infants also have an understanding of the physical objects far beyond their existence. Infants have a basic idea about the way physical objects would behave when exposed to various conditions.
(ii) Impossible Events
The developmental psychologist Renée Baillargeon carried out an experiment involving ‘Impossible Events’. These tasks were undertaken to test cognitive skills in infants.
Furthermore, this experiment was conducted under two conditions. One is the experimental condition and the other is the controlled condition.
1. Experimental Condition
Under the experimental condition, two types of events were carried out – possible and impossible events. In the impossible event, a gloved hand pushed an object along a platform.
This was done until the object was off the platform’s edge. Furthermore, the gloved hand did not grasp the object. Rather, it only used a finger to push the object along the platform.
Then, in the possible event condition, the hand using just a finger stopped pushing the object while it was still on the platform. It was noticed that children gazed longer at the impossible event than the possible event. This indicated that they understand that physical objects cannot remain suspended in vacant spaces.
2. Controlled Condition
Now, in the control condition, the gloved hand grasped the object and pushed it beyond the edge of the platform. During this instance, children did not gaze longer at the event and were not surprised.
However, children did seem a little surprised when (i) the gloved hand grasped the object and (ii) pushed it while stopping before reaching the edge of the platform.
Thus, such experiments go against Piaget’s assumption. They indicated that infants as small as three and a half months o understand much about the physical nature of the objects.
Egocentrism refers to young children’s incapacity to understand that others perceive the world in a different way than they do. In order to study this trait in young children, Piaget showed children a model of a mountain. This model consisted of various other things such as a small stream.
The children could see the stream only from certain sides of the model. Then, Piaget made children walk around the mountain and looked at it from various angles. In addition to this, he placed a doll at different positions around the mountain.
Besides this, he asked the children to explain what the doll saw. Or he asked them to pick a photograph showcasing what that doll could see.
Piaget observed that children could not perform such a task with accuracy until they were six or seven years old. However, once again Piaget was misled.
This was because such a task involved objects like trees and people. And these were both differentiated and familiar.
Furthermore, children as young as three or four years old could respond accurately to such objects. In fact, children as old as fourteen to eighteen months indicated that others could not see what they could see.
For instance, such infants would look back and forth between objects and adults as they point towards the objects they want the adults to see.
Piaget also undermined young children’s concept called conservation. Conservation is the children’s capacity to categorize objects and understand what it means to be alive.
Hence, the developmental psychologist concluded that Piaget’s theory highlights some important aspects of young children’s thought processes. However, it underestimates children’s abilities in several aspects.
II. Discrete Stages of Cognitive Development
Piaget in his theory concluded that cognitive development takes place via different stages. Furthermore, these stages are continuous or follow an order. This means that he emphasized that children must complete one stage before entering the next stage.
A modern assessment of Paiget’s theory indicates that cognitive development takes place in a gradual manner. This means that a capability that is completely absent at a certain age does not appear suddenly at another. In addition to this, the cognitive changes are domain-specific.
This means that young children may have the ability with respect to some kind of thought process. However, they may be far less advanced with respect to the other areas.
III. Social Interaction Between Children and Caregivers in the Children’s Cognitive Development
Piaget’s theory of cognitive development indicates that cognitive changes in children take place due to:
Their effort to draw a sense of the world around them, and
By the process of maturation. However, Lev Vygotsky proposed a socio-cultural theory. The Socio-Cultural Theory is another major theory of cognitive development. This theory lays emphasis on the role that social factors and language play in children’s cognitive development. These changes occur in school-aged children. Vygotsky suggested that cognitive development in such children happens in an interpersonal social context. In such a context, children advance from their level of actual development towards their level of potential development. Here the potential development level refers to young children’s capability to achieve things with the help of mentors. Whereas the level of actual development refers to the capability of children to perform actions without any help.
Thus, as a therapist, you adopt a variety of CBT Techniques to bring about a cognitive change in your patient’s thinking and belief system. And such a cognitive change is brought about both at the intellectual level and emotional level.
Thus, the patients experience an improvement in their behavior and emotional state when they learn to evaluate their thinking in a more realistic and adaptive way.
So, as a cognitive therapist, you need to work at a deeper level of your patient’s cognition. This means you have to work on your patient’s basic beliefs about themselves, their world, and other people.
As a result, you will be able to bring about an enduring change in your patients’ mood, dysfunctional beliefs, and behavior.
Therefore, the following are the steps in CBT that will explain how does CBT work step by step.
I. Identifying Automatic Thoughts
(i) What Are Automatic Thoughts?
Automatic Thoughts are the thoughts that arise spontaneously. Such thoughts coexist with a set of more prominent thoughts. Furthermore, the Automatic Thoughts are not based on evaluation or reflection.
Besides this, automatic thoughts occur for a very brief period of time. And the patients experiencing automatic thoughts are more often aware of the associated emotion than the thoughts themselves.
(ii) Characteristics of Automatic Thoughts
Furthermore, the automatic thoughts may be in verbal form, visual form, or both. In addition to this, one can evaluate automatic thoughts according to their utility and validity.
It is important to note that automatic thoughts are common to all of us. These are not just peculiar to people with psychological distress.
Furthermore, we are hardly aware of automatic thoughts most of the time. However, we can become aware of them with a little training. Thus, we can do a reality check when we become aware of our automatic thoughts. Provided we are not suffering from any psychological dysfunction.
However, people experiencing psychological distress are unable to engage in this kind of critical examination. But, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches them tools to assess their thoughts in a structured and conscious way.
As a Cognitive Behavior Therapist, you need to identify the automatic thoughts that your patient is experiencing. Well, it is fairly simple to predict your patient’s automatic thoughts once you identify his or her beliefs.
Now, you need to identify those automatic thoughts that are dysfunctional in your patient. The dysfunctional automatic thoughts are the ones that distort reality, are emotionally distressing, and get in the way of your patient’s ability to reach their goals.
So, the point is that people usually accept their automatic thoughts as true. They do not evaluate or reflect upon their automatic thoughts. However, people would experience a positive change in their thought process. Provided they identify, evaluate, and respond to their automatic thoughts in a more adaptive way.
(iii) Explaining Automatic Thoughts To Patients
As a Cognitive Behavior Therapist, you need to use the examples of your own patient to explain to him or her the negative automatic thoughts that he or she experiences. This means you need to bring to light the automatic thoughts your patient experiences pertaining to a specific problem.
Next, you need to explain to your patient the relationship between negative automatic thoughts and the associated feelings. In other words, you need to explain to your patient that his negative automatic thoughts influence his emotions in a negative way.
Then, you need to demonstrate to your patient how CBT Therapy would help him to identify his own automatic thoughts. In addition to this, you will also illustrate how your patient would be able to evaluate his automatic thoughts once he identifies such thoughts.
The first step in CBT Treatment is to teach your patient to identify the automatic thoughts when his mood is changing. You need to make sure that your patient keeps on practicing this until it’s easy for him to identify such thoughts.
Then, the next step is to teach your patient to evaluate these automatic thoughts. Thus, your patient needs to change his thinking if it is not completely right. However, both you and your patient need to work out a solution if his automatic thoughts are correct.
Finally, you can check to determine if your client has understood the above-mentioned Cognitive Model at the end of the session.
(iv) How To Elicit Automatic Thoughts?
Learning to identify automatic thoughts is the same as learning a new skill. It is quite easy for some patients and therapists to understand automatic thoughts. Whereas, others need more guidance and practice to identify automatic thoughts and images.
So, as a Cognitive Behavior Therapist, you need to ask the basic question “What Was Going Through Your Mind” to your patient. And when are you going to do it? Well, you would ask this question when your patients explain a problematic situation that they experienced. Or when you observe a shift to negative affect during the session.
Therefore, you need to vigilant to both verbal and non-verbal cues from your patient to bring out his automatic thoughts during the session.
These automatic thoughts may be associated with the patient himself, you as a therapist, or the subject in question. Such thoughts may weaken your patient’s sense of worth and may also interfere with the therapeutic relationship.
However, your patient gets an opportunity to test and respond to the automatic thoughts immediately. Provided he is able to identify his automatic thoughts.
(v) What are The Techniques To Elicit Automatic Thoughts?
You can use the following techniques in case your patient is unable to explain what was going through his mind.
Ask them how he felt and where inside the body he experienced the emotion?
Obtain a detailed description of the problem at hand
Ask him to visualize the distressing situation
Suggest him to recreate the specific interaction that he had with you through role play
Try to obtain a mental image of what he experienced
Supply opposite thoughts to him
Uncover the meaning of the situation
Phrase the question differently
(vi) Identifying Additional Automatic Thoughts
One of the other Cognitive Behavioral Therapy steps is to continue questioning your patients even when they outline an initial automatic thought. Thus, the additional questioning would bring to the front other important thoughts.
It is important to note that your patient may have other automatic thoughts. But, these thoughts are not about the same situation itself. Rather, they are about their reaction to that situation.
Thus, they may interpret their emotion, behavior, or physiological reaction in a negative way. This means that your patient may first have automatic thoughts about the specific situation. And then, he has thoughts about his anxiety and his bodily reaction.
Remember, these secondary emotional reactions can be quite distressing. Furthermore, such secondary emotions can make the situation even worse than it is for your patient.
Therefore, as a Cognitive Therapist, it is important for you to determine the points at which your patient was distressed. Furthermore, you also need to figure out what their automatic thoughts were at that point.
Points Where Your Patient Can Have Negative thoughts
Before A Situation where your patient anticipates what might happen?
During a Situation
After a Situation where your patient reflects on what had happened.
(vii) Identifying The Problematic Situation
As mentioned above, your patients find it difficult to identify their automatic thoughts related to a particular emotion. In addition to this, your patients may also find it challenging to recognize the issue that is upsetting them.
In such a situation, you need to propose a host of upsetting problems and help them determine the most upsetting problem. Then, you can ask your patient to imagine how he feels where one of those upsetting problems is eliminated.
Thus, it becomes easy for your patient to identify the automatic thoughts once he is able to identify a specific situation.
(viii) Differentiating Between Automatic Thoughts and Interpretations
Remember, you look for actual words or images that go through your patient’s mind when you ask him for automatic thoughts.
So, many patients indicate interpretations instead of automatic thoughts. This is because they still have not learned to identify their automatic thoughts. As a result, these interpretations say nothing about their automatic thoughts.
Therefore, as a Cognitive Therapist, you need to on your patient’s emotions whenever he reports an interpretation instead of an automatic thought.
(ix) Mentioning Automatic Thoughts Rooted in Discussion
Your patients need to learn to mention the actual words that go through their minds. And how can they learn this?
Well, as a Cognitive Therapist, you need to smoothly lead your patients to recognize the actual words that go through their minds.
This way, you will be able to assess them effectively as a Cognitive Therapist.
(x) Changing the Form of Question Thoughts
It is common on the part of your patients to report automatic thoughts that are incomplete. Therefore, in such situations, you need to advise them to communicate the complete thought.
Besides this, you can even help them spell out the complete automatic thought. How? Just spell out an opposite thought in case your patients are unable to specify the complete automatic thought.
Then, sometimes your patients may express automatic thoughts in the form of questions. In such a case, it would become challenging for you and the patient to assess the automatic thoughts.
So, you need to guide your patient to express his thoughts in the form of a statement. You should give this guidance before helping them to assess their automatic thoughts.
(xi) Identifying Situations That Can Elicit Automatic Thoughts
Automatic Thoughts can arise both due to external stimuli and internal experiences. This means that your patients can have automatic thoughts in other areas.
For instance, your patient can have thoughts about his cognitions, emotions, behavior, physiological, or mental experiences. Therefore, any of these stimuli may give rise to an initial automatic thought t or a sequence of automatic thoughts.
Then, an initial emotional, behavioral, or psychological reaction may follow these automatic thoughts. Following this, your patient may have additional thoughts about any part of the Cognitive Model. Hence, this may further lead to additional related emotional, behavioral, and physiological reactions.
It is clear that people suffering from psychological disorders make predictable errors in their thinking. Thus, as a Cognitive Therapist, it is your job to teach your patients to recognize their dysfunctional thinking, to assess the same, and modify it.
Thus, this process begins with recognizing the specific automatic thoughts in particular situations. The ability to identify automatic thoughts varies from patient to patient. This means that it is easier for some patients to identify automatic thoughts. While it may take other patients some amount of practice to identify such thoughts.
Therefore, as a Cognitive Therapist, you need to ensure that your patients outline actual thoughts. So this means you would have to change your questioning in case your patients are unable to recognize their own automatic thoughts.
II. Identifying Emotions
Emotions are the primary element of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Furthermore, the symptom relief and abatement of the patient’s disorder are the important goals of Cognitive Therapy.
As we already know, excessive negative emotion is painful and may be dysfunctional. This happens when negative emotions interfere with your patient’s capability to think clearly, solve problems, act effectively, or gain satisfaction.
So, patients suffering from a psychiatric disorder often experience intense emotions. And the intensity of these emotions may be inappropriate to the situation.
However, the intensity of your patient’s emotions matters when you identify the strength of his automatic thoughts and beliefs. This is because such automatic thoughts and beliefs of your patient are highly activated.
Hence, the following are the things you need to do as a Cognitive Therapist to help your distressed patient identify his emotions.
(i) Things CBT Therapists Need To Do In Identifying Emotions
As a therapist, it is important for you to acknowledge as well as empathize with the way your patient feels. Besides this, you should not challenge or dispute your patient’s emotions.
This means, you just need to assess the thoughts and beliefs underlying your patient’s distress to reduce his depression. And you have to restrain yourself from evaluating his emotions.
Besides this, you do not have to discuss all the situations or events where your patient feels depressed or unhappy. Rather, you have to determine your patient’s important problematic issues based on your Conceptualization of your patient.
Typically, the problems with the highest levels of distress are the most important problems of your patient. And the problems in which the patients have a normal level of distress are usually less important.
Thus, the aim of CBT is not to get rid of all the distress. Remember, negative emotions are equally an important part of our lives as positive emotions. This is because negative emotions serve an important function just like physical pain.
In addition to this, you need to strive towards increasing your patient’s positive emotions. How? Well, you need to discuss your patient’s interests, positive events occurring in the previous week, and positive memories.
Besides this, you need to assign homework to your patient. Such assignments must involve activities that give pleasure to your patient.
(ii) Differentiate Automatic Thoughts From Emotions
Many patients do not understand the difference between thoughts and emotions. Thus, as a therapist, you need to help your patient understand what he is going through. In addition to this, you also need to share your understanding of the experience with him.
In other words, as a Cognitive Therapist, you need to consistently help your patients understand their experiences through the Cognitive Model.
How To Distinguish Between Thoughts and Emotions?
So to achieve this, you first need to organize your patient’s data into the Cognitive Model categories. These include Situation, Automatic Thought, and Reaction. The Reaction includes emotion, specific behavior, and physiological response.
Besides this, you need to be vigilant enough in situations when your patient confuses his thoughts and emotions. In such situations, you can either ignore the confusion, address it at that time, or address it later.
The action you choose would depend upon the flow of the session, your patient’s goals, and the strength of your alliance with the patient.
So, you should clearly state the difference between emotion and thought to your patient if you choose to address the confusion. You need to let your patient know that feelings are what you experience or feel emotional. Typically, emotions are represented in one word like anger, anxiety, fear, and so on.
However, thoughts are the ideas that your patient has. Your patient thinks about the ideas either in words or in images.
(iii) Why It’s Important To Distinguish Among Emotions?
As a therapist, you constantly conceptualize your patient’s problems. This is so because you want to understand his experiences, viewpoints, beliefs, automatic thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
So, the connection among your patient’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior should make sense. This means you need to investigate further when your patient’s emotions do not match with the content of his automatic thoughts.
(iv) Difficulty in Labeling Emotions
Many patients label their emotions quite easily and correctly. However, there are some patients who have a very poor vocabulary for emotions. Besides this, there are still others who face difficulty labeling their own specific emotions.
Thus, it is important in such situations to help your patient to link his emotional reactions in particular situations to his labels.
So, how can your patient learn to label his emotions more effectively? The answer is using an ‘Emotion Chart’. In the Emotion Chart, your patient can write down the current and previous situations in which he felt a specific emotion. This way he can even refer back to the chart whenever he faces challenges naming how he felt.
In addition to this, as a Cognitive Therapist, you need to make sure that the content of the automatic thoughts must match with the stated emotion.
(v) Rating Degrees Of Emotion
At times, it is important for your patients to not only identify their emotions. But, it is equally important for them to quantify the degree of emotions they are experiencing.
For instance, your patient may have flawed beliefs about experiencing an emotion. He may believe that his distress will increase and become intolerant if he feels even a small amount of distress.
Thus, in such a situation, you must ensure as a therapist that your patient learns to rate the intensity of his emotions. This is because it will help him in testing his own beliefs.
Besides this, you also need to evaluate whether questioning and adaptively responding to a thought or belief have been effective. This way you can judge whether your patient’s cognition requires further intervention.
However, if you fail to do so, you may end up reaching the wrong conclusions. For instance, you may either conclude that CBT interventions have succeeded. Or you may continue discussing an automatic thought or belief that no longer significantly distresses your patient.
Evaluating the intensity of emotion in a given situation helps both you and the patient determine whether the situation demands close scrutiny.
This means that a relatively less emotionally laden situation may be less valuable to discuss as compared to the one that is more distressing to your patient.
(vi) Using Emotional Intensity To Direct Therapy
Your patients may not have an understanding regarding the situations that they should bring up for discussion. In such a situation, you can always ask your patients to rate the degree of distress they are still experiencing.
Such a rating would help your patients to decide whether discussion regarding a specific situation would be of any help to them.
Therefore, as a Therapist, you need to get a clear picture of the events or situations that distress your patients. Furthermore, you need to help your patients differentiate between their thoughts and emotions. In addition to this, you also need to help your patients to evaluate their flawed thinking that is responsible for their distressed mood.
III. Evaluating Automatic Thoughts
Your patients have innumerable thoughts a day. Some thoughts are flawed whereas some are functional. However, as a Cognitive Therapist, you need to evaluate only a few ones in a given CBT session.
The following is the manner in which you can evaluate the automatic thoughts of your patients.
(i) Select Key Automatic Thoughts
Say, your patient makes an instantaneous revelation during the session. Then, he associated an automatic thought from the previous week with such a revelation. Or, your patient narrated an automatic thought that he anticipates would occur in the future.
So, you as a Cognitive Therapist, identify your patient’s automatic thoughts. Now, the next thing that you need to do is to conceptualize whether your patient’s automatic thought is important or not. In other words, you need to determine whether the automatic thought is currently distressing or likely to repeat in the future for your client.
How? Well, you need to ask questions to your client from the previous week in case the automatic thoughts occurred in the previous week. Besides this, you will also ask yourself whether your patient is likely to have this kind of thought again in the future and feel depressed.
You can change the questions a bit in case you believe there is a chance of recurrence of the automatic thoughts in the near future. In addition to this, you also need to ask additional questions to your patient to determine whether there are certain additional automatic thoughts that are important.
(ii) Use Socratic Questioning To Evaluate Automatic Thoughts
So, you have identified your patient’s automatic thoughts and determined that it’s important and distressing for your client. Besides this, you have also recognized the associated reactions to such automatic thoughts.
Now, the next step is that you need to collaborate with your patient and evaluate his automatic thoughts. You need not challenge your patient’s thoughts directly. This is because:
You are unaware of the intensity of your patient’s automatic thoughts beforehand.
Challenging your patient’s thoughts directly can make him feel invalidated.
Lastly, directly challenging the thought process of your patient would go against the CBT principle of collaborative empiricism.
Besides this, you should also keep in mind that automatic thoughts cannot be entirely inaccurate. These thoughts do have some amount of truth in them.
How To Evaluate Automatic Thoughts?
Typically, you need to use Socratic Questioning to help your patients evaluate their thinking. It is important to note that the patients need a structured methodology to evaluate their thought processes.
In the absence of a structured method, your patients would respond to their automatic thoughts superficially or unconvincingly. As a result, your patients would not be able to enhance their mood or functioning.
Furthermore, the evaluation should be fair. For instance, you do not want your patient to overlook the evidence by:
supporting his automatic thoughts
creating another explanation that is not appropriate, or
accepting an unjustified positive view of what might happen?
So, what are the questions that you need to ask your patient? Well, the following table lists those questions.
Questions For Evaluating Automatic Thoughts
Analyze the validity of the automatic thought.
What is the evidence that supports this idea?
What is the evidence that works against this idea?
Survey the likelihood of alternative interpretations or viewpoints
Is there any other explanation or viewpoint?
Decatastrophize the problematic situation.
What is the worst that could happen?
If it happened, how could I cope?
What is the best that could happen?
What is the most realistic outcome?
Identify the impact of believing the automatic thought.
What is the effect of my believing the automatic thought?
What could be the effect of changing my thinking?
Gain distance from the thought.
What would I tell_____________________ [a specific friend or family member] if he or she were in the same situation?
Take steps to resolve the problem.
What should I do?
However, you need to keep in mind that not all questions are appropriate to ask your patient. Furthermore, asking all the questions may overwhelm your patient and may be very time-consuming.
Remember, that your patients would end up not evaluating their thoughts at all if they consider the entire process to be overwhelming. So, make sure that you ask one or a few questions at a time.
Besides this, you may use Socratic Questioning from the first CBT session itself. This is because it will help you to evaluate a specific automatic thought of your patient.
Then, in the following session, you can explain the entire process of Socratic Questioning more specifically to your patients. This way, your patients can learn to evaluate their thinking between the sessions.
(iii) Assess The Outcome of the Evaluation Process
As a Cognitive Therapist, you would evaluate to what extent your patient believes in the automatic thought that came to his mind originally? Additionally, you will determine how your patient feels emotionally once he has evaluated his thoughts.
This will help you as a therapist to determine what you should do next in the CBT Session. Remember, you might not use all Socratic Questions mentioned in the above table to evaluate your patient’s automatic thoughts.
Sometimes, you might not even use a single question and may adopt a different path altogether to assess the automatic thoughts of your patient.
Say, your patient still believes his original automatic thought to a great extent and feels inferior emotionally. In such a case, you need to conceptualize why your attempt at cognitively restructuring your patient was not sufficiently effective.
There can be a number of reasons for such ineffectiveness or failure. Some of the common reasons are given in the table below.
Reasons Why Evaluation of Automatic Thoughts Is Ineffective?
There are other important Automatic Thoughts or images unevaluated.
It is implausible, superficial, or inadequate to evaluate an Automatic Thought.
Your patient did not communicate the evidence sufficiently.
The Automatic Thought itself is also the fundamental belief.
Your patient has an understanding intellectually that his or her automatic thoughts are distorted. However, your patient is not able to believe it on an emotional basis.
Let’s consider the example of Stephanie – a University student. She reports the thought “If I participate in the Community Dance Competition, I Will Never Be Able to Make It.”
1. Other Automatic Thoughts Are Unevaluated
So, when Stephanie evaluates this automatic thought in case of the first situation, she does not get distressed. This is because she has other important automatic thoughts running in her mind.
Now, what can the alternative automatic thoughts be? These may include thoughts like: “What if the audience thinks I am not a good dancer?” or “What if I forget the dance steps?”
Remember, Stephanie does have an image of her Dance Teacher and other competitors watching her with mocking, scornful faces.
2. Implausibility in Evaluating an Automatic Thought
Now, in the second situation, Stephanie responds to an Automatic Thought superficially.
For instance, Stephanie thinks that she will not be able to perform dance this time around as she has her exams.
However, despite having this belief, she tells her teacher that she will probably perform.
In this case, Stephanie did not evaluate her automatic thought before responding. Therefore, her response is insufficient and her anxiety did not decrease.
3. Insufficient Evidence
Let’s take up the third case. Say, as a therapist, you do not investigate thoroughly. As a result, Stephanie does not communicate the evidence fully that her automatic thought is true. This leads to Stephanie giving an ineffective adaptive response.
4. When Automatic Thought Is The Fundamental Belief
Now, let’s consider the fourth situation. Stephnie identifies an automatic thought that also happens to be her core belief. Like, Stephanie always thinks that she is inept.
She believes this belief so strongly that a single evaluation does not change her perception and the associated effect. Thus, as a therapist, you need to use a number of techniques over a period of time to change Stephanie’s beliefs.
5. Inability To See Distortion at Emotional Level
Finally, there can be a situation when Stephanie indicates that she believes an adaptive response “intellectually” in her mind. However, she does not believe it “emotionally” in her heart or soul. Thus, she disregards the adaptive response. So, in this case, you and Stephanie need to discover the unexpressed belief that lies behind Stephanie’s automatic thought.
(v) Use Alternative Methods
As a Cognitive Therapist, you can use alternative strategies in addition to using Socratic Questioning to evaluate the automatic thoughts of your patients.
These strategies include:
Using alternative questions
As a therapist, you need to vary questions in case you believe that the standard questions as mentioned in the previous section are not working. These alternative questions would help your patient to adopt a more functional perspective.
You can begin by questioning the validity of the automatic thought of your patient. Then, you can shift your focus to the implicit underlying belief.
In the end, you can ask your patient an open-ended question to understand whether your patient needs further help in responding to her thoughts.
Recognizing Cognitive Distortion
Patients tend to make errors in their thought process consistently. As per Aron Beck, people suffering from a psychiatric disorder have a systematic negative bias in their cognitive processing.
The following table showcases the most common cognitive errors.
Common Cognitive Errors
Error in Automatic Thought
In this kind of thinking, your patient views a situation in only two categories.
It is the type of thinking in which your patient predicts the future negatively without considering other outcomes.
In this, your patient tells himself unreasonably that positive experiences, deeds, or qualities do not count.
This makes your patient think that something must be true because he “feels” it so strongly. Thus, your patient ignores the evidence.
Your patient puts a label on himself or others without considering that the evidence might more reasonably lead to a less disastrous conclusion.
Magnification or Minimization
Your patient unreasonably magnifies the negative or minimizes the positive whenever he evaluates himself, another person, or a situation.
It happens when your patient pays undue attention to one negative detail instead of seeing the whole picture.
This is a situation when your patient believes you know what others are thinking, failing to consider other, more likely possibilities.
Overgeneralization is a cognitive error that occurs when you make a sweeping negative conclusion that goes far beyond the current situation.
Personalization occurs when your patient believes that others are behaving negatively because of him, without considering more plausible explanations for their behavior.
“Should” and “Must” Statements
In this, your patient has a precise, fixed idea of how he or others should behave. Also, he overestimates how bad it is that these expectations are not met.
Tunnel Vision is a Cognitive Error that occurs when your patient only views the negative aspects of a situation.
As a therapist, you might use well-thought-out self-disclosure in place of or in addition to Socratic Questioning or other methods.
You do this because you want to showcase as a therapist that even you have automatic thoughts and how you were able to change similar thoughts.
(vi) Respond When Automatic Thoughts Are True
At times, the automatic thoughts of your patients turn out to be true. So, you may choose to undertake one or more of the following:
Emphasize on Solving Problems
You already know that all problems cannot be solved. However, you would like to investigate whether your patient’s problem can be resolved when his perception of a situation is likely to be valid.
Investigate Invalid Conclusions
There can be a possibility that your patient’s automatic thought turns out to be true. However, the meaning of such a thought may be invalid or may not be completely valid. So, you need to ask your patient further questions in order to investigate the invalid or dysfunctional conclusions that he might have drawn.
Work Toward Acceptance
Some problems can’t be solved. And they can never be solved. However, your patients need help in accepting this. They may continue to feel depressed if they have unreasonable expectations about an unresolvable problem.
In other words, your patients will remain miserable if they believe that the problem at hand can be resolved somehow.
So, you need to assist your clients in learning to focus on their core values when they continue to have unrealistic expectations. Besides this, you also need to emphasize the more rewarding aspects of their lives and enhance their experience in new ways.
(vii) Teach Patients To Evaluate Automatic Thoughts
Some patients learn to evaluate automatic thoughts quickly. However, others need repeated guided practice. Say, for instance, one of your patients is able to better evaluate his automatic thoughts with a variation in the Evidence Question.
Whereas, another patient who catastrophizes events may do better with a variation of the “Decatastrophizing” Question.
Still another patient may find it useful to answer the “Distancing” Question. Therefore, as a therapist, you need to select one of your patient’s automatic thoughts for which most of the questions are valid. You may do this when your patient is ready to learn the skill of evaluating his automatic thoughts.
Then, you can either give a copy of those questions to your patient following a part of a CBT session. Or else, you can wait until a later time. Provided your questioning is ineffective, you do not have time to review, or you think the patient will become overwhelmed.
So, while handing out the copy of questions to your patient, you can intimate your patient to seek help in case he finds difficulty. This would prevent your patient from self-criticism and defeatism.
However, you need to continue discussing how answering questions would make things better for your patient. Provided he judges his capability to complete the assignment.
(viii) Do Not Use Questions At All
You may simply ask your patients to devise an adaptive response when they have progressed in therapy. That is, they are ready to evaluate their automatic thoughts.
IV. Responding To Automatic Thoughts
Your patient experiences certain automatic thoughts in between the sessions or outside the sessions. There are two types of thoughts that your patient experiences during such a time period.
The first kind of automatic thought is the one that he has already recognized and evaluated during the CBT session. And the second type of automatic thought is Novel Cognition.
So, for the first type of automatic thoughts, you would ensure that your patient has made a note of the robust responses either in writing or in audio format.
Whereas, for the novel cognitions in between the sessions, you need to teach your patient to either use:
The list of questions mentioned in the above section, or
Use a Worksheet such as the Thought Record, or
Utilize “Testing Your Thoughts”
Besides this, there are other ways to respond to automatic thoughts. For instance, your patients can resort to problem-solving, undertake certain relaxation techniques, or accept their thoughts without evaluation.
The following section explains the process that could help your patients to respond to their automatic thoughts.
How To Respond To Automatic Thoughts?
Reviewing Therapy Notes
As mentioned, you would evaluate your patient’s automatic thoughts usually through Socratic Questioning. Then, you need to ask your patient to summarize the discussion.
You can ask questions like:
Can you summarize the discussion?
What do you think is important for you to remember this week?
What would you tell yourself if you face this situation again?
Furthermore, you can ask your patient to record a brief summary of the discussion that he gives. This would help your patient to remember the response when similar automatic thoughts arise in the near future.
However, you need to guide your patient if his summary is too superficial, confusing, or wordy. You can give suggestions to your patient which they can record for future use.
In addition to this, you need to ensure that your patient reads his therapy notes. He can read them every morning or any time during the day whenever he feels the need.
This is important as patients consolidate responses into their thinking process when they rehearse those responses repeatedly.
Furthermore, it is important to note that reading therapy notes regularly is more effective. This is because the regular reading of therapy notes prepares your patient for challenging situations constantly.
However, Reading Therapy Notes only when your patients face challenging situations is less effective in preparing them for such situations.
What Do Therapy Notes Include?
Now, what do these therapy notes have that prepare your patients for unwanted situations. These notes include:
Responses to distorted thinking
Behavioral Assignments, or
A combination of the above two
It is important to note that as a therapist, you must have a photocopy of your patient’s therapy notes. These copies would help you in reviewing your patient’s assignments.
Moreover, it will help your patient as well in case he misplaced the original copy of the therapy notes.
Audio-Recorded Therapy Notes
Though, writing the Therapy Notes is the ideal way of recording the things discussed during the CBT sessions. However, there are some patients who do not like or cannot read. Or they find listening to notes to be more effective.
In any case, you need to either turn on your audio recorder. Or else, you can ask your patient to record the responses to automatic thoughts discussed during the therapy session.
You need to ensure that your patient reads or listens to the therapy notes during the week post the therapy session. And for this, you need to consistently motivate your patient to do so.
Remember, motivating your patient to read or listen to the therapy notes is the same as facilitating him to do any kind of assignment.
Evaluating and Responding to Novel Cognitions
In the above section, we emphasized that your patients must use Socratic Questions to evaluate their thinking.
However, you need to make sure of the following things before suggesting your patients to use such questions at home whenever they feel upset.
Your patients must understand that evaluating their thinking would help them feel better.
The Patients need to believe that they will be able to use Socratic Questions effectively at home.
Your patients have an understanding that not all Socratic Questions apply to all the automatic thoughts.
You have created a short list of questions for your patients as they find too many questions overwhelming.
Besides this, you also need to guide your patients as to when and how to use the questions.
CBT Thought Record
The CBT Thought Record (TR) is also called Daily Record. It is a worksheet that induces your clients to evaluate their automatic thoughts whenever they feel depressed.
It generates more insights than just responding to the Socratic Questions. Now, it is not mandatory for your patients to use a CBT Thought Record if the Socratic Questions are useful to them.
However, many patients prefer using an automatic Thought Record over Socratic Questions. This is because a CBT Thought Record Worksheet helps them to organize their thoughts and responses in a much better way.
But remember, a TR is not specifically useful for those patients who are low functioning, do not like writing, and are unmotivated.
Further, a CBT Thought Log is also not useful for patients who are not qualified or prepared intellectually to benefit from it.
So, the best that you can do as a therapist is to first use the list of Socratic Questions with your patients. Then, you can demonstrate to them how to write the answers and other details on a Thought Record Template.
The following section provides a Thought Record Template for you to download and use with your patients.
CBT Thought Record Template
Directions: When you notice your mood getting worse, ask yourself, “What’s going through my mind right now?” and as soon as possible jot down the thought or mental image in the Automatic Thought(s) column.
What actual events or stream of thoughts led to the unpleasant emotion?
Then, what distressing physical sensations did you have?
What thoughts and/or images went through your mind?
. How much did you believe each one at the time?
What emotion (sad/anxious/angry/etc.) did you feel at the time?
How intense (0–100%) was the emotion?
(optional) What cognitive distortion did you make?
Use questions at the bottom to compose a response to the automatic thoughts.
How much do you believe in each response?
How much do you now believe each automatic thought?
What emotion do you feel now? How intense (0–100%) is the emotion?
What will you do (or did you do)?
Questions to help compose an alternative response
What is the evidence that the automatic thought is true? Not true?
Is there an alternative explanation?
What’s the worst that could happen?
How could I cope?
What’s the best that could happen?
What is the most realistic outcome?
What’s the effect of my believing the automatic thought?
What could be the effect of my changing my thinking?
What should I do about it?
If [friend’s name] was in the situation and had this thought, what would I tell him/her?
Download CBT Thought Record PDF Template
The above table showcases a sample thought record worksheet from the Cognitive behavior therapy worksheet packet by Judith S. Beck. Bala Cynwyd, PA: Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
You can use a simplified version of a CBT Thought Record in case your patients find it too overwhelming. The simplified version of a CBT Thought Log is the “Testing Your Thoughts” Worksheet.
Testing Your Thoughts Worksheet is similar to an automatic Thought Record. It consists of similar questions, is written in the readable language, and is more structured. Thus, patients find it easy to complete a Testing Your Thoughts Worksheet.
CBT Testing Your Thoughts Worksheet
The following table showcases the “Testing Your Thoughts” Worksheet. This Worksheet is taken from the Cognitive behavior therapy worksheet packet by Judith S. Beck. Bala Cynwyd, PA: Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
What’s the situation?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What am I thinking or imagining?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Different things that makesme think the thought is true?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What makes me think the thought is not true or not completely true?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What’s another way to look at this?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What’s the worst that could happen? What could I do then?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Wha is the best that could happen?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What will probably happen?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What’ll happen if I keep telling myself the same thought?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What could happen if I changed my thinking?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What would I tell my friend [think of a specific person] happened to him or her?______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
When a CBT Thought Record Worksheet Is Not Enough
As a therapist, you should not overstate the importance of a particular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Technique. The same goes for the CBT Thought Record Worksheets as well.
Usually, patients find it overwhelming to complete a worksheet at some point in time. Or, they may realize that completing a worksheet did not give them the much-required relief.
So, you should always point out the general functionalities of a CBT Thought Record Worksheet. Plus, you should also demonstrate the learning opportunities from such Worksheets.
This will help your patients to avoid automatic thoughts that are disapproving of themselves, the therapy, the worksheets, and much more.
Responding To Automatic Thoughts in Other Ways
There may be times when you will have to use other CBT techniques to help your patients respond to their automatic thoughts.
One of such CBT techniques is called “AWARE”. This technique is used to help your patients evaluate their anxious thoughts.
AWARE CBT Technique
A: Accepting their anxiety
W: Watching their anxiety without judgment.
A: Acting with their anxiety, as if they aren’t anxious.
R: Repeating the first three steps.
E: Expecting the best.
As a therapist, you can use certain relaxation or distraction CBT techniques. You can use these techniques when your patient’s emotions are too strong. And, hence, it is ineffective to use your patients’ cognitive function to evaluate their automatic thoughts.
V. Identifying and Modifying Intermediate Beliefs
This section deals with the deeper understandings that the patients have about themselves, others, and their personal lives. These understandings lead to the development of specific automatic thoughts.
However, these ideas are often unarticulated before CBT Therapy. But, as a therapist, you can easily bring out these ideas.
It is important to note that such beliefs or ideas are often of two types: Intermediate Beliefs and Core Beliefs.
Intermediate Beliefs are the ideas composed of rules, attitudes, and assumptions. Whereas, the Core Beliefs are the rigid and global ideas that your patients have about themselves, others, and the world.
Furthermore, the Intermediate Beliefs are still modifiable relative to the Core Beliefs of a patient.
Now, as a therapist, you first need to develop a Cognitive Conceptualization of your patient before planning CBT Therapy for him. Furthermore, Cognitive Conceptualization would help you to chose suitable CBT interventions.
In addition to this, it also helps you to use other CBT techniques in case the standard CBT interventions fail.
(i) Cognitive Conceptualization
Typically, as a therapist, you would guide your patients to work on their automatic thoughts. You would not directly engage in modifying the intermediate beliefs of your patients.
Thus, you would develop a Cognitive Conceptualization about your patient from the very beginning of CBT Therapy. This is because Cognitive Conceptualisation about your patient helps you to associate automatic thoughts with deeper-level thoughts.
Therefore, you are less likely to direct CBT Therapy effectively and efficiently if you fail to see the bigger picture.
So, you need to develop a Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram. Then, you need to start filling it out with your patient after the first CBT session.
But, you can do this only if you have your patient’s data collected in the form of a cognitive model. In other words, you must have your patient’s data about his automatic thoughts, emotions, behavior, and beliefs to develop Conceptualization.
Remember, that a Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram showcases the relationship between your patient’s core beliefs, intermediate beliefs, and the present automatic thoughts.
In other words, it provides you with a cognitive map of your patient’s psychopathology. Furthermore, it also helps you to organize a wide range of data your patient presents.
Therefore, a Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram consists of the questions you need to ask yourself to complete the same.
Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram
As a therapist, you should consider filling in this diagram after the first CBT session as your initial, tentative effort. This is because you do not have sufficient cognitive data of your patient just after the first CBT session itself.
Thus, the insufficient data would not help you to determine the degree of your patient’s automatic thoughts. Furthermore, the incomplete diagram would mislead you. Provided, you chose situations in which the themes of your patients’ automatic thoughts do not form part of an overall pattern.
Thus, it is important to complete the Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram with your patient. And, you will be able to develop a complete diagram after three or four CBT sessions. This is because you will get your patient’s complete pattern after completing these sessions.
Also, you can verbally share the partial Conceptualization Diagram with your patient. And you can do so when you summarize every session in the form of a cognitive model.
However, you may not be able to share an incomplete worksheet with your patients. This is because, unlike the Diagram, the incomplete worksheets can be quite overwhelming or confusing for your patients.
CBT Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram Template
How To Fill A Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram?
Create A Tentative CBT Conceptualization Diagram
In the beginning, you might just have some data to complete a part of the diagram. So, you can either leave the other boxes blank. Or, you can fill the items that you have worked out with a question mark. This would indicate that the information in such boxes is tentative.
In addition to this, you will confirm the details of all the boxes with a question mark with your patient in future sessions.
Review The Tentative Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram
Well, at some point during the CBT Treatment, you will have to share both the top and the bottom parts of the Conceptualization Diagram. This happens when you want your patient to take a much broader view of the challenges.
It is at this time that you will verbally review the Conceptualization of your patient’s automatic thoughts. Besides this, you will also share with your patient a simplified version of the Conceptualization on a blank paper.
Share A Blank Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram
But, you can also give your patient a blank Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram so that you can fill it together. Provided you believe that your patient would benefit from such an exercise.
Remember, you will always present tentative explanations with your patient. Furthermore, you would label such explanations as Hypotheses. Then, you would ask your patients whether they believe the explanations are true or not.
Typically, it is ideal to start with the bottom half of the Conceptualization Diagram. Then, as a therapist, you make a note of three typical situations in which your patient became upset.
Following this, you will have to make a note of the primary automatic thought of your patient, its meaning, and the following emotions and behavior of your patient.
However, there might be a case that you do not directly ask your patient the meaning of his automatic thoughts. In such a situation, you need to either hypothesize or adopt the downward arrow technique.
You can use this technique in the next CBT session to uncover the meaning of each of your patient’s automatic thoughts.
Remember, you need to logically connect the meaning of each of your patient’s automatic thoughts with the Core Belief Box.
Complete The Top Box of the Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram
The following are the questions you need to ask yourself to complete the top box of the diagram:
How did the core belief arise and become maintained?
What life events did your patient experience, specifically in childhood, that might relate to the maintenance of the belief?
Typically, the childhood data may include certain key events. These may include:
A rift between parents or family members,
Negative conversations with parents, siblings, teachers, or peers, or others where your patient felt blamed or devalued,
Death of important people in your patient’s life,
Physical or sexual abuse,
Experiencing trauma, or
Other adverse conditions
However, there can be a possibility that your patient’s childhood data is more subtle in nature. For instance your patient:
Did not meet his parent’s expectations, teachers, or others,
Was demeaned by his peers
Felt that his parents favored his sibling
Next, you need to ask yourself that did your patient cope with this core belief? Further, you also need to think about the intermediate beliefs that your patient developed during childhood.
Complete The Assumptions Box of the Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram
The next step is to list the key assumptions that your patient made about his core beliefs in the Conditional Assumptions/Beliefs/Rules Box.
You need to list the assumptions once you have determined the core as well as the intermediate beliefs of your patient. Remember, that you can categorize your patient’s beliefs into attitudes or rules, as the case may be.
It is important to note that your patient forms assumptions because these assumptions help him to cope with his core or intermediate beliefs.
But, you must also know that your patient may also develop a negative assumption of the same positive assumption he formed in the first place to cope with his beliefs.
Typically patients with anxiety disorders tend to function using the assumption phrased in a positive manner. However, they tend to rely on the negative assumption if they become psychologically distressed.
Fill The Coping Strategies Box of the Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram
To complete this box, you need to determine the behavioral strategies your patient developed to cope with his core belief.
Now, the nature of the strategies that your patient developed to cope with his core belief would depend upon his cognitive and behavioral style.
This behavioral style is the result of his intermediate beliefs. These beliefs developed as a consequence of his interactions with the environment around him.
Furthermore, these beliefs reinforced his cognitive and behavioral strategies.
Now, you need to understand that adopting coping strategies is normal behavior. This is because everyone makes use of these strategies to cope with challenging situations.
However, it turns out abnormal when psychologically distressed people overuse these strategies at the cost of more functional strategies.
Summary of Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram
Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram includes only the data your patient presents. Secondly, you must consider your hypotheses as tentative till the time your patient confirms them.
Next, you will keep on reevaluating and refining your diagram as and when you collect more data. Remember, your conceptualization stands incomplete till the time your patient terminates the CBT treatment.
As mentioned above, you may not share the actual diagram with your patients. However, you will verbally communicate the conceptualization about your patient’s experience right from the first CBT session.
This will help your patient to get a sense of their current reactions to various situations. Then, at some point, you would present the larger picture to your patient.
Remember that some patients may not be ready both intellectually and emotionally to see the larger picture. In such a case, you need to wait until your patient is ready.
(ii) Identifying Intermediate and Core Beliefs
The following are the strategies that you can adopt to identify the intermediate and core beliefs of your patient.
Strategies To Identify Intermediate and Core Beliefs
Recognize When A Belief Is Expressed As An Automatic Thought
Initially, your patient may actually express a belief as an automatic thought.
Offer The First Part of the Assumption
Second, you may provide your patient the first part of the assumption. This would help you to obtain the complete assumption of your patient regarding his core belief.
Remember, you can rephrase the question in case your patient finds it challenging to express the second part of the assumption.
Directly Elicit A Rule or an Attitude
Once you obtain the assumption, the next strategy is to identify a rule or an attitude. You can identify a rule or an attitude through direct elicitation.
Use the Downward Arrow Technique
The fourth technique that you can adopt to identify the intermediate and core beliefs of your patient is the downward arrow technique.
In this technique, you first need to determine your patient’s automatic thoughts that may have arisen directly from a distorted belief.
Then, you need to ask your patient the meaning of such a thought process. While doing so, you are assuming that your patient’s automatic thought is true.
So, you need to keep on doing this till the time you have successfully obtained one or more important beliefs.
Thus, your patient expresses an intermediate belief when you directly ask him the meaning of his automatic thought.
However, your patient expresses the core belief when you ask him about the meaning of his automatic thought.
But sometimes, you patient may express feeling related to the automatic thought rather than the thought itself. In such a case, you need to empathize with your patient and then focus on obtaining his beliefs.
Furthermore, you also need to provide the underlying reason for your repeated questioning. This will reduce the possibility of your patient reacting negatively.
But, you need to stop using this technique when your patient showcases a negative shift in affect or begins to state the belief.
Look For Common Themes in Automatic Thoughts
The next technique that you can use to identify your patient’s beliefs is to find common themes in his automatic thoughts across situations.
So, you can ask insightful patients whether they can identify a recurrent theme in their automatic thoughts. Or else, you can develop a hypothesis about a belief and ask your patient to think about its validity.
Ask the Patient Directly
The next strategy is to directly ask your patients to express their beliefs.
Review A Belief Questionaire
Finally, you may ask your patient to complete a questionnaire.
(iii)Deciding Whether To Modify A Belief
Once you have successfully determined a belief, the next step is to determine whether the intermediate belief is important or not.
It is important to note that to conduct CBT Therapy efficiently, you need to focus on the most intermediate beliefs.
Moreover, it’s a waste of time and effort to focus on the dysfunctional beliefs that are not important to your patient.
Then, you need to decide whether to explicitly present the belief to your patient or not. Besides this, you also need to determine whether you will just identify the belief and work on it in the future. Or, whether you would prefer to work on it at the present time.
And, you need to do all this once you have figured out your patient’s important intermediate belief. S, you can ask yourself the following questions:
What is the Belief?
How Strongly Does My Patient Believe in It?
How Strongly Does It Impact His Life In Case He Believes in it Strongly?
Should I Work On His Belief Now in Case He Believes in It Strongly?
Will My Patient Be Able To Evaluate His Beliefs With Reasonability?
So, you need to start modifying your patient’s beliefs as early as possible. It is important to note that your patient will be able to interpret his experiences in a more reasonable and functional way. Provided, he no longer strongly endorses his beliefs.
However, some beliefs are deeply embedded in your patient’s mind. So, it is ideal to teach your patient to first evaluate his automatic thoughts. This is because your patient will come to know that it is not mandatory that whatever he thinks or believes is not necessarily true.
Remember, it is easy to modify beliefs in some patients. However, it is much more difficult with others. Also, you need to ensure that you modify the intermediate beliefs of your patients before their core beliefs.
This is because the core beliefs are rigid and it is challenging to modify them.
(iv) Educating Patients About Beliefs
You may decide to educate your patient about the nature of his beliefs using a particular belief as an example. However, you should do this once you have identified an important belief your patient strongly believes in.
So, you can explain to your patient that he could have adopted a range of beliefs. Furthermore, you also need to explain that beliefs are learned, are not innate, and hence can be modified.
(v) Altering Rules and Attitudes Into Assumption
It is important to note that it is easy for your patients to identify the distortion and evaluate an intermediate belief. Provided, such a belief is in the form of an assumption.
However, it will be quite challenging for your patient to observe and assess an intermediate belief if it is in the form of a rule or an attitude.
Therefore, as a therapist, you need first identify the rule or the attitude. Then, you need to use the Downward Arrow Technique to determine the meaning of such a belief.
(vi) Determining Advantages and Disadvantages of Beliefs
It is quite helpful for your patients to determine the advantages and disadvantages of holding a certain belief.
Therefore, as a therapist, you need to try to minimize the advantages and reinforce the disadvantages of holding such a belief.
(vii) Developing A New Belief
As mentioned above, you certainly need to decide the strategies in order to modify your patient’s belief. While doing so, you also need to formulate a more adaptive or functional belief for your patient.
Although, formulating a new belief is a collaborative procedure. But still, you need to formulate a range of more functional beliefs in your mind. This is because you can use such beliefs while choosing strategies to change the old belief of your patient.
(ii) Modifying Beliefs
There are a number of strategies that you can adopt as a therapist to modify the intermediate or core beliefs.
However, you must understand that some beliefs may change easily. But, many other beliefs may take a constant effort on your part over a period of time.
Now, you can keep asking your patients the degree to which they believe a specific belief. And, you can do this at both intellectual and emotional levels.
This will help you to determine the amount of work needed to be done to modify a given belief.
You must understand that it is impossible to reduce the level of belief to 0%. This means you need to make a judgment call to decide when to stop working on a belief.
Typically, your patient stops believing in a given belief if he affirms to it less than 30%.
Furthermore, a belief tends to minimize when your patient is more likely to continue modifying his dysfunctional behavior. Although, your patient continues to believe just a small part of the belief.
Also, you need to ensure that your patient keeps a track of the beliefs he evaluates in his therapy notes.
He needs to do this in a structured format. For instance, he can use the following format:
Dysfunctional Belief – Strength of the Belief (in percentage)
New Belief – Strength of the Belief (in percentage)
Furthermore, you also need to ensure that your patient reads and reevaluates the degree to which he believes in both old and new beliefs daily.
Now, there are certain CBT techniques that you can practice to modify your patient’s beliefs. These include:
You need to use the same types of questions to evaluate your patient’s belief that you used in evaluating his automatic thoughts.
Through these questions, you try to help your patient evaluate his beliefs with regard to specific situations. This specificity makes the evaluation process more meaningful and less abstract.
Just like automatic thoughts, you can help your patient in developing behavioral tests to evaluate the validity of a belief.
Remember, the behavioral experiments can modify your patient’s beliefs more effectively as compared to the verbal techniques. Provides, such experiments are designed and carried out properly.
This technique is useful to modify both your patient’s automatic thoughts and beliefs reflecting contradictory thinking.
Furthermore, building a Cognitive Continuum for the concept in question facilitates your patient to recognize the middle ground.
Also, this technique is useful when your patient showcases dual thinking. So, like other CBT techniques, you can directly teach your patient the manner in which he can employ this technique himself.
This CBT Technique is also called Point-Counterpoint Technique. It is typically used after you have tried other CBT techniques with your patient.
You can use this technique when your patient believes intellectually that a given belief is dysfunctional. However, emotionally, your patient still believes that the given belief is true.
Therefore, in the first round of the role play, you play the “intellectual” part of your patient’s brain. Whereas, you ask your patient to play the “emotional” part of his brain – the one that strongly believes in the dysfunctional belief.
Then, in the second segment of the role play, you switch roles. It is important to note that in both the segments, both you and your patient speak as the patient. In other words, you both use the word “I”.
Thus, when you switch roles, it provides an opportunity for your patient to speak the intellectual voice that you just modeled. Likewise, you make use of the same reasoning and emotional words that your patient used.
Therefore, using their own words helps your patients to respond more precisely to the specific concerns.
Now, there can be a possibility that your patient is unable to formulate a response while he is playing the intellectual part.
In such a case, you can either switch roles temporarily or else you can come out of the role and discuss the issue with your patient.
Furthermore, you will also evaluate the effectiveness as well as the degree to which your patient needs to work on a given belief.
And how can you do this? You can do this by asking your patient to rate the degree to which they believe in the belief even after cognitive interventions.
Note that many patients find this role play useful. While others feel uncomfortable doing it. Therefore, both you and your patient need to mutually decide whether to use this CBT technique or not.
Using Other People As a Reference Point
Your patient is at a distance from his own beliefs when he considers the beliefs of other people. In such a situation, your patient observes an inconsistency between what they believe about themselves and what they more strongly believe is true about others.
This is one way to modify an intermediate or core belief of your patient. Another way to do this is to make your patients recognize someone else who has the same dysfunctional belief as them.
Sometimes, your patients may be able to see the distortion in someone else’s thinking and apply the night to themselves.
Besides this, you can even do a role play with your patients. While doing this, you can instruct them to convince another person that the belief they both hold is invalid for the other person.
Finally, many patients can distance themselves from a belief by using their own or other children as a reference point.
Acting “As If”
Changes in belief lead to corresponding changes in behavior. And changes in behavior lead to corresponding changes in belief.
Say, for instance, your patient has a fairly weak belief. In such a case, your patient may be able to change target behavior quite easily, without much cognitive intervention.
But, there are many beliefs that require some modification before your patient is willing to change behaviorally. However, only some and not complete belief modification is required.
And once your patient begins to change his behavior, the belief itself gets weakened.
You can help some of your patients view their beliefs differently using appropriate and judicious Self-Disclosure. Remember, the Self-Disclosure should be genuine and relevant.
VI. Identifying and Modifying Core Beliefs
Note that your patients may have negative core beliefs about other people and their environment. For instance, “Other People are Not Trustworthy”, “This World is a Bad Place to Live In”, “Guys Can Never Stay Committed in a Marriage“, etc.
These are fixed overgeneralized ideas. Hence, these need to be evaluated and modified in addition to the core beliefs that your patient has about himself.
Remember, the positive schema of your patient turns into a negative schema as and when he becomes depressed.
As a result, your patient begins to overemphasize and overgeneralize negative data.
Furthermore, such overgeneralization of the negative data reinforces your patient’s beliefs.
At the same time, your patient fails to identify a significant amount of positive data related to his schema. As a result, the positive data fails to get incorporated into his cognitive schema.
Thus, when this happens, your patient does not voluntarily process information in a dysfunctional manner. This kind of information processing happens automatically and is a symptom of depression.
Therefore, it is important as a therapist to work on modifying the negative core belief of your patient. This will result in not only relieving him from depression. But, it will also reduce the severity of future episodes.
So, you will have to directly start working on modifying the beliefs of your patient as soon as possible in the CBT treatment. This is because it is less likely for your patients to process thoughts in a dysfunctional manner once they change their beliefs.
In some situations, your patients may have more functional and realistic automatic thoughts. However, there may be times when they may be holding quite rigid beliefs.
Therefore, the following are the reasons why you may not be able to succeed in modifying your patient’s beliefs.
Reasons For Failing With Early Belief Modification
The reasons why you may not succeed in modifying your patient’s beliefs early because your patient:
Has has quite rigid and overgeneralized core beliefs
Does not believe that cognitions are ideas and not mandatorily truths
Experiences high level of affect when his beliefs are questioned
Does not have a strong alliance with you
Thus, in all such cases, you will teach your patient certain tools. These include tools of recognizing, evaluating, and adaptively responding to automatic thoughts and intermediate beliefs. You should teach these tools for modifying intermediate beliefs before modifying your patient/s core beliefs.
It’s quite unconscious a practice to evaluate your patient’s core belief early in the treatment. This is because your patient expresses the core belief as an automatic thought. Furthermore, such an evaluation may not turn out to be effective.
Besides, there may be another possibility. You might intentionally test the modifiability of a core belief. And you may do this even before working on your patient’s automatic thoughts and intermediate beliefs.
Note that the degree of complexity in recognizing and modifying core beliefs varies from patient to patient.
Thus, patients under significant emotional distress easily express their core beliefs relative to others.
Also, it is much easier to modify the negative core beliefs of the patients suffering from anxiety disorders. This is because they have been counterbalancing positive core beliefs throughout much of their lives.
However, it is much more challenging to modify the core beliefs of the patients suffering from personality disorders. This is because they have less positive core beliefs and their positive core beliefs are weak. Plus, they develop numerous strongly held negative core beliefs that connect with each other like a network.
Steps in Modifying Core Beliefs
The following are the steps that you need to follow as a therapist in identifying and modifying the core beliefs of your patients.
I. Categorize Core Beliefs
The first thing that you need to do as a therapist is to categorize your patient’s core beliefs. You can categorize these beliefs into:
Thus, you try to seek the category of your patient’s core belief whenever he presents his problems, automatic thoughts, behavior, etc. The following table showcases some of the examples of different categories of core beliefs.
Helplessness Core Beliefs
“That I am incompetent.”
“I am ineffective.”
“That I can’t do anything right.”
“I am helpless.”
“That I am weak.”
Unlovable Core Beliefs
“I am unlovable.”
“That I am different.”
“I am undesirable.”
“That I am unattractive.”
“I am unwanted.”
Worthless Core Beliefs
“That I am worthless.”
“I am immoral.”
“That I am a waste.”
“I don’t deserve to live.”
“That I am evil.”
So, sometimes it is quite clear the category in which a specific core belief falls into. However, at other times, you may not know initially which category the core belief belongs to.
Therefore, in such situations, you need to formulate a hypothesis about your patient’s core beliefs in your mind. You need to do this when your patient presents the data in the form of their automatic thoughts and reactions.
Therefore, you first need to bifurcate your patient’s cognitions that seem to fall into helpless, unlovable, or worthless categories.
II. Identify Core Beliefs
To identify your patient’s core beliefs, you need to use the same CBT techniques that you used to identify his intermediate beliefs.
Besides using the downward arrow technique, you can look for central themes in your patients’ automatic thoughts. In addition to this, you can also look for core beliefs expressed as automatic thoughts. And, you can also directly bring forth the core belief.
Hence, it is important for you as a therapist to identify your patient’s core belief early in CBT therapy. This is because you can conceptualize your patient and plan his treatment only if you recognize his core belief.
In addition to this, you need to collect data about your patient and help him evaluate his core belief early on.
Remember, sometimes your patient’s early evaluation of core belief is ineffective. But it certainly helps you test the strength and modifiability of such a core belief.
III. Present Core Beliefs
As mentioned above, you need to collect sufficient data to hypothesize about your patient’s core belief. Also, you need to ensure that your patient is receptive enough to listen to your conceptualization about your patient.
Once all of this is done, you need to tentatively present your conceptualization about your patient to him.
Or else, you can review different related automatic thoughts your patient had in different situations. Then, you can ask them to draw a conclusion as to an underlying pattern.
You can also use a simplified version of the Cognitive Conceptualization Diagram with some of your patients early in the CBT treatment. Furthermore, you can even explore your patient’s childhood.
Remember, you need to use your patient’s historical data when you present your hypothesis to him. This hypothesis is about how your patient came to believe a core belief in the first place. At that time, you also need to explain to your patient how his core belief could be untrue. Although, he currently believes it so strongly.
IV. Educate Patients About Their Core Beliefs
It is important for your patient to understand the following things about his core belief that:
It is just an idea and not mandatorily a truth.
He can believe it strongly and feel that it’s true. Yet it might be entirely untrue.
It can be tested as it is an idea.
It can arise from childhood events. So it may or may not be true at the time he first came to believe it.
It continues to be maintained through the operation of his schemas. In that, he readily recognizes the data that supports his core belief. However, he ignores the data that goes against the core belief.
You and your patient can use different strategies to modify his core belief over time. This is done to help him view himself in a more realistic way.
V. Develop A New Core Belief
Many depressed patients had a different core belief before the onset of anxiety disorder. At that time, this core belief was a much more positive, reality-based, and functional idea.
Therefore, they may easily identify this belief.
However, when your patient is unable to communicate his former idea, you mentally devise a new, more realistic, and functional belief for him. Furthermore, you guide your patient towards it.
Remember, that a relatively positive belief is usually easier for your patient to adopt than an extreme belief.
Therefore, you need to start working on weakening the negative core belief and strengthening the positive core belief. You can start doing this once you have identified a negative core belief and devised a positive belief.
VI. Strengthen New Core Beliefs
There are two ways in which you can strengthen the new core beliefs.
1. Obtain Positive Data
The first way is to intentionally obtain positive data from your patient. This you can do by questioning your patient.
Furthermore, you need to point out the positive data to your patient. And you need to do this especially when the data contradicts the old, negative core belief but supports a new, more reality-based belief.
Now, what are the ways in which you can point out the positive data about your patient?
Well, you can ask your patient about his strengths, his positive experiences, and keeping a credit list.
Besides this, you can provide him with feedback and ask your patient to give positive evidence regarding his cognitions not being true.
2. Ask Patients To Evaluate Experiences In A New Way
The second way is to ask your patient to evaluate his experiences in a new way specifically when you are working on strengthening his new core belief.
This would facilitate your patient’s capability to recognize the positive data himself.
You need to help your patient adopt a different view of his experiences when you try to strengthen his new core belief.
In this, your patient asks himself what he is doing or what is happening that could provide support to his new core belief.
3. Adopt Other Ways To Strengthen New Beliefs
However, there might be a possibility that your patient may face a challenge in carrying out this work. In such a case, you need to modify it.
You need to remember that many patients need either a visual or an audio cue to remind themselves to look for positive data throughout the day.
Therefore, you need to ensure that you encourage your patients to record the data in some way.
4. Track Your Patient’s New Core Beliefs
Also, it is important for you as a therapist to track how strongly your patients believe in their new core beliefs over time. And you need to track this both at an intellectual and an emotional level.
Besides this, you need to get an account of instances in which their degree of belief was relatively higher. Then, you need to reinforce their interpretation. This way you will help your patients reframe the meaning of the experiences in which their belief was relatively lower.
VII. Modify Negative Core Beliefs
You will have to adopt many techniques to hep your patients changes their core beliefs. Some of these CBT techniques are as follows.
Important Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
Examining Advantages and Disadvantages
Intellectual–Emotional Role Plays
Acting “As If”
Core Belief Worksheet
Stories and Metaphors
Restructuring Early Memories
Remember, that the core beliefs typically change at the intellectual level first specifically when you apply intellectual-level techniques.
This means you need to apply emotional-level techniques to change the core beliefs of your patients at the emotional level.
VIII. The Core Belief Worksheet
You may make use of The Core Belief Worksheet once you have identified the old core belief and developed a new one.
Your patients can fill out this worksheet during the session as well as for homework. This would help them monitor the manner in which their beliefs operate.
Furthermore, it will help them in reframing the evidence that seemed to support their old beliefs.
IX. Use Various Other Techniques To Modify Core Beliefs
You can also make use of some other CBT Techniques to modify the core beliefs of your patients. These include:
In addition to this, when he asked the participants to narrate the story repeatedly, Bartlett found that they forgot much of the information from the story.
Besides this, the participants even changed the details in such a way that it turned out to be more familiar with their own culture.
For instance, the word ‘boats’ was replaced by ‘canoes’ and some participants forgot the information about ghosts.
So what does this study reveal?
This research clearly indicates that when information enters into human memory, it gets altered in various ways over a period of time.
Furthermore, these alterations reduce the accuracy of the information and tend to change their meaning, thus leading to false memories.
So in this article, we shall discuss what is a false memory and what are the factors responsible for creating false memories in humans.
What is False Memory?
False memories refer to memories for events that never happen in reality. Such memories typically occur in young children.
This is because they are more likely to commit errors with regards to accurately identifying the source of their memories or describing whether such memories were based on events that happened in real or were just a part of their imagination.
A lot of studies have been conducted for false memories. One of these was undertaken by Ceci in 1995.
Case Study on False Memories
Ceci conducted a study with preschool children. As a part of the study, these children were asked to identify both the real events that they had experienced and fictitious events that they had not experienced. The real events that the preschool children narrated were like those of a bicycle accident. However, the fictitious
How Do False Memories Develop?
The following are the factors due to which an individual creates false memories for events that do not occur in real.
I. Memory Distortion and Construction
As mentioned above, the information entering the human memory changes in various ways which makes the information inaccurate and modifies the meaning of such information.
Thus, the alteration of information takes place in two ways. Either there is memory distortion or memory construction.
Let’s understand the two ways in which information changes once it enters the human memory.
Memory distortion refers to the alterations that take place in the information that gets stored in human memory and later retrieved.
Each one of us experiences memory distortion at different moments in our lives.
For instance, you and your business partner visit a client to finalize a new project.
During negotiations, there was an argument and you got annoyed as was pretty evident from your bodily gestures.
Later, when you recalled the event while discussing it with your partner in your office premises, you tried to justify your actions and portrayed yourself in a favorable light, considering the very act on your part to be right.
Events like these are simple situations where we as human beings alter the information or distort memory. That is to make false memories.
Besides such instances, memory distortion can also take place when someone provides false or misleading information and hence you respond accordingly.
For instance, an attorney asks one of the eyewitnesses a list of questions in such a way that such questions are suggestive in nature.
That is, it makes the eyewitnesses recall the details that the attorney wants them to remember.
Thus, information gets distorted in cases like these when someone makes a comment or asks a question that suggests facts not present in our own memories.
Now, you might be wondering how these distortions in memory take place or how these false memories are developed?
Well, the below section explains the factors that are responsible for memory distortion or the creation of false memories.
How Memory Distortion Leads to False Memories?
Following are the ways in which memory gets distorted and leads to false memories :
Working of Schemas
Schemas are nothing but cognitive structures that represent a person’s knowledge and his assumptions about particular aspects of the external world.
These cognitive frameworks are developed through a person’s experience.
Thus, the schemas act as the support structures which provide an individual with a basic framework in order to process new information and further relate that information with the existing pool of knowledge. That is the knowledge that is stored in the long term memory of an individual.
So, once these cognitive frameworks are developed, these impact to a great extent the manner in which the information gets encoded, stored and recalled by an individual.
Thus, the effects produced by the formation of schemas can lead to errors or distortion in human memory, thereby resulting in false memories.
The impact of these schemas is most prominent when information enters the memory of an individual. Let’s take an example to understand this.
Suppose your psychology teacher explained a new concept in class today and asked you to research on the same.
Since the concept is quite new to you, it will take time for your memory to build a schema or a cognitive framework for the same.
Therefore, when you go back home and undertake research pertaining to the concept, your memory is able to consider even the information which is a bit inconsistent with the concept or an extension of it.
This is because such information is quite startling for you and hence you are able to focus your attention on it quite easily.
However, once the schema for this concept is well developed in your memory over a period of time, it becomes quite challenging to remember information that is inconsistent with the schema.
Thus, this example indicates that the way schemas work inside human memory, it makes us notice and remember information that supports our knowledge about the world quite easily as compared to the information that goes against it.
Motives of an Individual
Another factor that leads to memory distortion or false memories in humans is an individual’s personal motives.
Typically, human beings make changes to their memories so that they can align them with the goals they want to achieve.
Suppose, your friend met a guy a few months back and has fallen in love with him. The guy whom she is in love with was your classmate and you are aware that he is cheating on your friend.
But, your friend is so much in love that she only emphasizes the positive information about him and often overlooks the negative details.
This is a typical case of distorting one’s memory or creating false memories by aligning them with the goals that one wants to seek.
To study these effects, McDonald and Hirt carried out research in the year 1997.
Study by McDonald and Hirt
As part of the research, they asked participants to observe the interview between two students. Some of the participants liked one of the students while the remaining participants had a liking towards the second student. Now, each of the two students was asked to behave in a polite, rude, or neutral manner. While this experiment was being conducted, the participants were also made to know the grades of each of the students. Later, when the participants were asked to recall information pertaining to the grades of each of the students, the participants distorted their memories in favor of the person whom they liked. That is they portrayed such a person in a good light. However, the participants who disliked such a student put him in a bad light.
Source of Information
The ambiguity regarding the source from which information was acquired also becomes one of the factors that lead to distortion in human memory or false memories.
One makes errors either in identifying the source of information or in deciding whether the information is based on events that happened in real or one’s own imagination.
In other words, an individual makes errors in the following two concepts:
Source monitoring is a process by which an individual identifies the source from where the information originated.
The error occurs when a person identifies a wrong source of information stored in his mind.
This type of distortion is evident in the case of eyewitnesses who make errors as they recall information that favors the actions of only one person, like the defendant.
Thus, the information provided by witnesses in the case of accidents and crimes is often considered inaccurate due to errors made by such witnesses in source monitoring.
Reality monitoring is a process in which an individual has to make a decision whether a particular set of memories occur due to events that happen in real or are based on one’s imagination or thoughts.
Thus, if an individual makes errors in reality monitoring, it also leads to distortion of memory or false memories.
The other way through which a person creates false memories is through memory construction.
Thus, memories can not only be altered or distorted, they can also be constructed thereby leading to false memories.
In other words, individuals can recall information about events or experiences that never happened in reality.
There is evidence that false memories, created as a result of memory construction, are quite convincing in nature. That is people strongly believe that such memories are real.
These types of false memories play an important role in the case of eyewitness testimony.
Let’s try to understand how it happens.
Eyewitness testimony is nothing but the information or evidence provided by people who witness a crime or an accident. Such information plays a very important role in trials carried out by attorneys. However, it is widely believed that such kind of evidence given by eyewitnesses is not really accurate in nature. As per research, people who witness a crime or an accident often commit errors while providing important details concerning a crime scene. They make errors to the extent that they report events which they did not witness in reality. In addition to this, when asked to identify the real criminal from a group of suspects, there are situations where they fail to identify the real criminal. In fact, such eyewitnesses identify innocent persons as criminals. They don’t do this intentionally. Rather, they try to be as accurate as possible.
So why do such errors occur? These errors occur because of the following reasons:
As discussed above, one of the reasons for such false memories to occur is the fact that the eyewitnesses identify the wrong source with regards to such memories.
For instance, when they are asked to identify the criminal from a group of suspects, they are able to do so because they remember having seen such a person before and make an assumption that such a person was present at the crime scene.
Now, it is not necessary that the suspected person was present at the crime scene in reality. Rather, the suspect’s face must be familiar to the eyewitness because he must have seen the suspect somewhere else, maybe in a market.
Attorneys or police officers put questions and use other techniques to the eyewitnesses in order to get insights about the crime or accidents.
These techniques are quite suggestive in nature. That is, such techniques are used in such a manner that they suggest the happening or non-happening of an event to the eyewitness.
As a result, the eyewitnesses get influenced by such techniques and provide false information that the attorney or police officer wants to hear.
The illusion of Outgroup Homogeneity
To understand outgroup homogeneity, we will have to first understand what is an ingroup and an outgroup.
The group that a person is a member of and strongly identifies with is an ingroup.
Once people start identifying themselves as belonging to an ingroup, they start perceiving the differences between the ingroup members and the members of other groups.
Anyone who is not a part of the ingroup is a part of an outgroup. So an outgroup is a group that a person has no loyalty with and is not a member of.
Accordingly, outgroup homogeneity is a tendency where people view the members of the outgroups as more similar or alike in characteristics than members of ingroups that people belong to.
For instance, people living in cities might believe that the people living in villages are stupid while they consider themselves to be smart, intelligent, stupid, or anything in between.
Thus, when a person from the city meets a person from a village who is intelligent, he might consider such a villager to be an exception.
Therefore, when people from the city make a generalized statement about the villagers being stupid, they stereotype villagers.
In a similar fashion, because of the illusion of outgroup homogeneity, the eyewitnesses identify an outgroup individual as the perpetrator of a crime.
Hence, given the above errors, it is clear that eyewitnesses do not provide as accurate information as one assumes.
Given this, such errors can lead to serious consequences like convicting innocent persons for a crime.
Repression refers to a concept where an individual actively eliminates from his consciousness experiences which he finds threatening.
Repression as a concept is widely accepted due to its prominence in trials, focussing on charges of childhood sexual abuse.
As a part of these trials, repression was given a reason for victims failing to remember the terrifying experiences for many years.
However, repression as a concept is questioned for various reasons.
One of the reasons is the fact that people create false memories that are memories of events that never happened in their lives.
Such effects are typically seen among young children who showcase such distortions as they are unable to identify the source of such memories as well as decide whether their memories are based on memories that really happened or it’s just their imagination.
Thus, there is sufficient evidence that some memories of extremely traumatic events can be constructed intentionally. But, this does not mean that all such memories narrated by individuals are false.
Imagine you are one of the participants representing your school in an inter-school quiz contest. You are asked a question from Indian mythology which you read about a couple of days back and are now finding it hard to remember.
The passing time and fewer chances left for boosting your team score have put you in such a zone that despite trying your level best, you are unable to answer.
Your memory for that factual information leaves no scope to disappoint you. This and many such experiences in life make us realize the importance of human memory.
These are the events when you want your memory to support you the most but unfortunately fail to access information that you desperately need at a specific point of time.
Have you wondered why this happens? Why do we forget things we learn as time passes?
In this article, we will discuss various explanations for why do we forget things we learn?
Why Do We Forget Things? – Some Explanations
Some of the earliest explanations for why do we forget things as human beings relate to the passage of time.
This view suggests that information forming part of the long term memory (LTM), one of the human memory types, is forgotten as the time fades away. In other words, older the memory, harder it is to remember.
However, there are many research studies suggesting that forgetting simply does not happen as a result of the amount of time that has elapsed.
Rather, what is important is what occurs between the time when you learn certain information and the time when it is tested.
Study By Minami and Dallen Bach
As a part pf study done by Minami and Dallen Bach, cockroaches were taught to avoid a dark compartment. This was done by giving them an electric shock whenever they entered the compartment. After sometime when the cockroaches had learned to avoid the dark compartment, they were either allowed to move about around a darkened cage as per their will or were restricted in a cone. The outcome of the research study showed that the cockroaches who were allowed to move about the darkened cage were the ones that were forgetting more relative to their counterparts who were restricted in a cone. This showcased what the cockroaches did between learning and being tested for the memory and not the passage of time that was important.
Therefore, the passage of time as a reason for why do we forget things was rejected and many other newer explanations were given in the favor of human beings forgetting things.
I. Forgetting Due To Interference
As we have seen above, forgetting is not a function of the passage of time. If that is the case, then what do we forget things as human beings?
One of the possible explanations in favor of forgetting is known as ‘interference’.
As per this explanation, forgetting happens mainly as a result of interference between items of information that form part of your memory.
Such interference between the items existing in the memory can take two different forms: retroactive interference and proactive interference.
Retroactive Interference refers to an interference with the information that is already stored in the memory by new information that is learned by an individual.
For instance, if a new recipe for preparing tea cake makes you forget the manner in which you made tea cake previously, what is at work here is the retroactive interference.
This is opposite to retroactive interference. Proactive interference is an interference with the current information learned or stored by an individual by the information that already exists in the memory.
For instance, you are unable to learn a new way of learning the tea cake due to interference by the existing memory for the tea cake.
Now, both retroactive and proactive interference play a crucial role in individuals forgetting things they learn.
However, there are a number of questions posed by the researchers for interference being the only factor responsible for forgetting things. Some of these are as follows:
Reasons For Questioning Interference Theory
Interference no doubt plays an important part in forgetting the meaningless things such as a list of nonsense syllables. It, however, does not play an important role in forgetting meaningful texts. That is to say, you tend to remember the passages that are very similar to each other despite these being capable of producing interference.
Likewise, in order for interference to occur, something that is worth interfering must take place between the period when the information was first learned and the time when the memory for such information as tested.
II. Retrieval Inhibition
Suppose your friend asks you to remember the names of 60 countries given in a list. Would you be able to recall all of them when asked a minute later?
Now suppose your friend asks you to remember just 30 countries out of a list of 60. Would this help you in remembering the remaining 30 countries from the list?
Well, as a common man, you would say that it would certainly help since now 30 countries are to be remembered at a time.
But, research studies suggest that remembering just half of the countries out of the list would decrease your performance to remember the remaining 30 countries.
This is because when you try to remember information, you may be able to recall the items that you attempt to find. However, at the same time, you would generate inhibition of other items that you did not attempt to remember.
The consequence of such learning is that the other items become extremely challenging to remember in the near future.
So, in the example above, when you try to remember the names of 30 countries out of a list of 60, you at the same time generate inhibition that obstructs the recall of the remaining 30 countries on the list.
In other words, retrieval itself can result in forgetting not of the factual information that you recall (that is 30 countries you memorized out of the list of 60) but of the other associated information.
This is the process of retrieval inhibition where the information that you don’t tend to remember is inhibited and such inhibition is produced by the retrieval of the other related information. That is the information that you memorized.
III. Forgetting Events Too Painful To Remember
Is it true that we chose to forget memories of events that are too painful to remember?
Yes, it is a fact that human beings actively eliminate from their consciousness experiences that are too painful to remember.
This concept is called ‘Repression’ that played an important role in Sigmund Freud’s theory of human personality. He also said that Repression was a cause of various psychological disorders.
According to Sigmund Freud, repressed memories hide in your unconscious mind, remain there, intensify, and cause various psychological problems.
These painful memories are then brought back to the consciousness of an individual with the help of a therapist.
Thus, Repression is a process where you are encouraged to forget memory because it was way too threatening to remember.
Repression has been given as one of the explanations in the trials that involve victims who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
Because the event was terrible and painful, they fail to remember such threatening experience and later are able to get back to their consciousness the memory of it when therapists question them and make use of suggestive techniques to do so.
However, there have been a number of questions raised on the authenticity of such memories reported by the victims during the therapy.
Are these memories real, accurate or are they simply a result of the suggestive techniques adopted by the therapists while asking questions?
There are a number of reasons that go against the authenticity of repression. These are as follows:
Reasons Against Repression
Lack of scientific evidence supporting repression
Suggestive techniques adopted by therapists making clients report repressed memories even when such memories do not exist
Media influencing people via reports of early sexual abuse leading to repressed memories
Increasing evidence of people generating false memories, that is memories of events that never existed. This occurs typically in young children who showcase errors with regards to both source and reality monitoring.
IV. Slipping of Information From Short-Term Memory
The slipping of information from short-term memory helps us in understanding why forgetting takes place in Short-Term Memory.
Short-term memory, also known as Working memory, is a memory that stores small amounts of information for shorter periods of time typically 30 seconds or less.
Further, working memory can retain only about seven distinct items that can vary two above or two below.
That is to say, if any information more than this enters our working memory, such a memory system gets overloaded and if any fresh information enters the working memory, the existing information disappears.
Why does this new information disappear from your short-term memory?
The most important findings made in this regard is the ‘Serial Position Curve’. Let’s have a look at the concept of the Serial Position Curve to better understand the working memory system.
Serial Position Curve
As per this finding, when an individual attempts to memorize a list of words, he is able to better remember the words appearing in the beginning and towards the end of the list relative to the words that appear in the middle.
That is to say, a chunk of unrelated words positioned at first and last of the list are remembered with greater accuracy as compared to the words placed in the middle of the list.
This happens because there exist two types of memory systems: short-term and long-term memory.
Short-Term memory retains information for a few seconds whereas long-term memory holds information for longer periods of time.
Given this, individuals typically remember the words appearing last in the list pretty well because of the ‘arecency effect’.
This is because these words are still afresh in the working memory when individuals are asked to recall the words they memorized in the list.
Likewise, they tend to remember words appearing at the beginning of the list because these words have already become a part of their long term memory.
Needless to say, words appearing in the middle of the list are forgotten because they have disappeared from the working memory and at the same time did not enter the long term memory.
Thus, individuals tend to remember only a few of the words appearing in the list.
Well, have you ever wondered how are you able to remember the events that happened way back?
It is your memory that is at work as it stores and retrieves details about the events that happened twenty to thirty years back.
Thus, it is an important part of a human being’s cognitive system as it enables us to remember our past, acquire new information, resolve problems, or plan for the future.
Without memory, we human beings cannot imagine even a single aspect of our lives.
In this article, we will try to understand what is memory in psychology, the models of memory in psychology, types of memory in psychology, kinds of information that get stored in memory, memory construction, and distortion.
What is Memory in Psychology?
As per Memory definition psychology, Memory in psychology refers to the cognitive systems that help us in storing retrieving information.
It enables us to remember events that happened in the past, acquire and retain new information, solve various challenges or plans for our future life.
Thus, memory is a crucial aspect of our cognition and hence psychologists have been researching memory for more than a century now.
One of the significant studies conducted in this field was carried out by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885. He conducted this study taking himself as the subject. As a part of the study, he memorized and then tried recalling hundreds of syllables that made no sense at all. That is, these syllables were a combination of meaningless letters. A few of his findings that are still relevant today include the distributed practice and massed practice. He emphasized that distributed practice is the one in which we make an effort to memorize items over a period of time. Whereas, in massed practice, we try to remember all items at once.
The studies like those conducted by Ebbinghaus were very simple beginnings and that gave way to modern theories.
So, modern research on memory in psychology emphasizes that instead of one memory, there are different types of memory in psychology, that is, a human brain possesses three types of memory.
These include working memory, memory for facts and memory for skills, and memory for events.
Besides this, the modern research also focusses on the concept of forgetting and things getting lost from human memory, memory distortion, constructions in memory, and memory in everyday life.
Models of Memory in Psychology
Different models of memory in psychology have been proposed. However, we will focus on two prominent models:
I. Atkinson and Shiffrin Model
The model of memory proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin in 1968 was based on the working of computer memory. It was emphasized that both human and computer memory need to achieve three important tasks. These include the following tasks that form various stages of memory.
Stages of Memory
Encoding is a process via which information is converted into a form so that it can be entered into the human memory.
Storage is a process that retains information in memory over different periods of time.
Retrieval is the process of locating and securing particular information in memory when it is required in the near future.
Based on this influential model, Atkinson and Shiffrin design a model of human memory.
Accordingly, the human brain possesses three different systems for storing information. These form the three types of memory: sensory, short term, and long term memory.
Three Types of Memory in Psychology
(i) Sensory Memory
This system of memory stores information pertaining to the sensory inputs we receive via our senses for a very short period of time.
That is, the information brought to us through our senses is stored for a temporary period of time.
The inputs received via vision are stored for less than a second. Whereas the information received through hearing is memorized for a few seconds inside this memory system.
However, the capacity of this memory system to store information is relatively high.
(ii) Short term Memory
This is the second type of memory system which is also known as working memory. Short term memory holds small amounts of information that we are using right now as we read this article.
The information being stored is used for a brief period of time, typically 30 seconds or less. However, the amount of information that gets stored is usually limited.
Such a memory system is used to memorize things like contact numbers, a list of grocery items, etc.
(iii) Long term Memory
The third memory system is the long term memory that allows us, humans, to retain large amounts of information for a very long period of time.
Thus, it is the long term memory that enables human beings to remember events that happened a few hours ago or in the past months or years in the past.
Besides this, long term memory also enables human beings to remember factual information such as name of state governors, historical events, characteristics of various geographies, etc.
Thus, episodic memory, semantic, and, procedural memories are three types of long term memories.
It is a kind of factual memory that one acquires at a specific time and place. This kind of memory enables a human being to recall particular thoughts or experiences that he had in the past.
This type of memory is explicit or declarative in nature as one is able to recall the events happened in the past or bring back those events into consciousness and narrate them verbally
It is another kind of factual memory that holds information of a more general or abstract in nature. In other words, one is not able to remember a specific time and place when such information was acquired by him.
The thing that this type of memory memorizes includes characteristics of objects, word meanings, or facts learned during school years like the name of the first President of the country.
Since this type of memory stores factual information, it is explicit or declarative in nature. That is, one can report it verbally.
It is a memory system that retains the information we cannot express into words readily. This type of memory is also termed as implicit memory.
In other words, one has the capability or knows how to perform some action in daily life. However, he cannot describe it verbally this knowledge or information to others.
For example, riding a bicycle is an activity that requires information pertaining to the motor skills that we developed over a period of time implicitly. We do not remember a specific time or place when we acquired such motor skills.
(II) Neural Network Model
Say, as a financial analyst you are required to calculate the return on investment of a given portfolio of 1000 stocks for one of your clients.
The data required to calculate ROI on such stocks include close to 45 – 50 parameters.
In short, the excel sheet that you are working on is quite complex in nature and demands a host of cognitive tasks for you to perform at the same time.
You might be wondering how are you able to perform different tasks at one point in time.
Well, psychologists term this system of performing cognitive tasks simultaneously as parallel processing.
This concept of parallel processing is explained in the Neural Network Model.
As per this model, the human brain processes information in a parallel manner. In other words, a group of interconnected neurons process information in various ways simultaneously.
This network of neurons is spread across the brain in different locations.
Each of these interconnected neural units performs a specific task and thus is responsible for our capability to process information so quickly.
This model also emphasizes that the information in human memory is not stored in a specific area within the brain.
Rather, it is spread over many processing units across the brain which are showcased with the help of various patterns of activation as well as the intensity of activation of various neural units.
Application of Memory in Psychology in Everyday Life
Human memory is used to serve different purposes in everyday life. Following are the various contexts where human memory plays its part:
Repression refers to a concept where an individual actively eliminates from his consciousness experiences which he finds threatening.
Sigmund Freud used the concept of repression to explain his theory on human personality and the causes behind psychological disorders.
He proposed that individual hides the repressed memories in his unconscious mind where they keep on festering and lead to causing many psychological problems.
Unless such individuals are brought back into consciousness by therapists, it is quite challenging to get rid of these psychological problems.
Repression as a concept is widely accepted due to its prominence is trials, focussing on charges of childhood sexual abuse.
As a part of these trials, repression was given a reason for victims failing to remember the terrifying experiences for many years.
They remembered those instances only when therapists questioned them and used various other techniques to get those instances to the forefront. However, repression as a concept is questioned for various reasons
Reasons Why Repression is Questioned?
Firstly, there is very little scientific evidence that holds the concept of repression exists.
Secondly, therapists may give suggestions unintentionally while conducting sessions that may lead the clients to describe repressed memories even if they don’t have them in the first place.
Next, many people also get influenced by various discussions pertaining to childhood sexual abuse and repressed memories of such experiences on various social and broadcast mediums.
Lastly, there is evidence that suggests that people create false memories. That is memories of events that never happened in their lives.
Such effects are typically seen among young children who showcase such distortions as they are unable to identify the source of such memories as well as decide whether their memories are based on memories that really happened or it’s just their imagination.
Thus, there is sufficient evidence that some memories of extremely traumatic events can be constructed intentionally. But, this does not mean that all such memories narrated by individuals are false.
It is a type of episodic memory that deals with information about events that take place in an individual’s life.
Different approaches are used to recall information about the lives of individuals.
Few of them include detailed questionnaires, studying the detailed diary of events maintained by an individual, etc.
In one of the studies conducted by Willem Wagenaar, he maintained his own diary for six years, where he recorded incidents happening to him each day. Further, he also rated each of the incidents in terms of its frequency and also noted the amount of emotional involvement he experienced. Thus, he recorded 2,400 incidents over a period of six years. Then, he tested his memory for over 12 months. The results indicated that the autobiographical memory too was affected by retrieval cues and emotional states.
Furthermore, autobiographical memories are developed probably from the third or fourth years of a human’s life.
As per certain evidence, human beings can remember events from very early periods.
However, we do not have the ability to remember experiences from first two or three years of life. This process is known as infantile amnesia.
Our incapacity to remember events from such early periods is due to lack of language skills during infancy, that is, we humans cannot describe such memories in words.
Also, our brain structures that play an important role to memorize events are not fully developed during this time. Because of this reason, an infant lacks autobiographical memory.
Another possibility for our incapacity to remember experiences from our infancy is we do not form a clear picture of the self – concept as an infant.
Flashbulb memories refer to the memories pertaining to our actions at a time when an emotion-provoking event happened in the past.
Such memories are called flashbulb memories because they get retained in the autobiographical memory of an individual in a detailed manner, just like a photograph.
The emotionally laden events may refer to an outbreak of a civil war, the assassination of a leader, outbreak of a pandemic like COVID-19, etc.
It is important to know that flashbulb memories are strongly embedded in human memory because such memories are formed due to events that are unique, important, and astonishing for the people experiencing such events. Thus, emotionally laden events influence human memory in the following manner.
Ways in Which Emotional Events Influence Human Memory
encoding takes place in a detailed way
there is an elaborative rehearsal
the emotionality of the event is too high
But, flashbulb memories are also quite inaccurate, that is, they do not provide human beings with perfect snapshots of important events.
Now, since we are clear with what are flashbulb memories, it is important to understand how an individual’s mood has an impact on his memory.
There are two ways in which mood can influence memory. These are as follows: mood dependent memory and mood congruence effects.
Mood Dependent Memory
As per this concept, the memory of a person can be improved. That is, he can recall information easily stored in his long-term memory when his mood while retrieving such information is similar to that when such information first entered his memory.
Thus, if some information entered your memory when you were in a good mood, there is a higher probability that you will remember such information when you are in a similar mood once again.
That is to say, that the mood you are currently into acts as a retrieval cue for information stored in your memory.
It is important to note here that you will remember this information no matter what it’s nature is. That is positive, negative or neutral
Mood Congruence Effects
As per this concept, it is a tendency of a human being to remember information that is congruent with his current mood.
In other words, there is a higher probability that he will retain positive information when in a positive mood and negative information when in a negative mood.
Now, you might be wondering how mood – dependent memory is different from mood congruence effects.
In mood dependent memory, your current mood acts as a retrieval cue to recall information you acquired when you were in such a mood before.
However, this information that you try to call may or may not be related to your current mood.
In contrast, in case of mood congruence effects, you tend to store information that is consistent with your current mood.
That is, you remember positive information when you feel happy and negative information when you feel sad.
This can be best illustrated by a person who is undergoing depression.
Due to mood congruence effects, a depressed person forces himself into a vicious circle in which negative feelings lead to negative thoughts and negative thoughts lead to negative memories.
What makes all of this possible is your memory. Memory is an important part of our cognitive system as it helps us to learn and retain new information, remember past events, solve everyday challenges, etc.
In this article, you will learn, what is memory, different types of memory in psychology and the crucial role memory plays in our everyday life.
What is Memory?
Memory is an important part of our cognition that allows us, humans, to store and retrieve information. Without memory, individuals would not be able to learn skills, remember factual information like details of an event, perform everyday tasks such as walking, reading, talking, etc.
There have been a number of studies conducted by psychologists that identify the important role memory plays in our cognition. One of the studies was conducted by Hermann Ebbinghaus towards the later part of 1885.
He came up with a lot of useful findings of memory that stand true even today. One of his findings suggested that we humans forget materials that we memorize quickly at first. However, as time passes, forgetting too happens at a relatively slower pace.
Furthermore, he concluded that if we distribute the amount of work that we do to memorize information over a period of time, we tend to memorize information in a far better way as compared to attempting to memorize all of it at once.
That is to say, he suggested adopting a distributive practice of memorizing information over the massed practice.
Stages of Memory
In order to understand memory, it is first important to understand how memory functions. As per one of the models of human memory suggested by Atkinson Shiffrin, human memory must be able to undertake three basic tasks. These include:
This is the process via which data or information is converted into a form that can be entered into the memory.
Storage is the process of keeping information over varied periods of time.
This is the process through which information is located and accessed when required at a later period of time.
Types of Memory
Taking the above model of human memory into consideration, according to Atkinson and Shiffrin, any individual possesses three basic types of memory:
Short-Term Memory, and
Further, short-term memory further consists of working memory and long-term memory is further sub-divided into implicit and explicit memory. Implicit Memory is nothing but the memory for skills. Whereas explicit memory is a memory for factual information which includes both Episodic Memory and Semantic Memory.
Let’s have a look at each of these.
I. Sensory Memory
Sensory Memory stores information for a temporary period of time. Such information is received by the memory through various senses of an individual. Further, Sensory Memory has the capacity to store large amounts of information. Such information is stored for less than 1 second in case of vision and a few seconds in case of hearing.
The information from the Sensory Memory moves to the Short-Term Memory only when an individual focuses attention on such information. That is to say, the information captured by our senses that does not receive the attention of an individual tends to fade away or disappear very quickly.
II. Short-Term Memory
Short-Term Memory is a memory that stores small amounts of information for shorter periods of time typically 30 seconds or less.
For instance, when you tend to memorize the list of items told by your mother to be bought from the supermarket, your short-term memory comes at play. Today, psychologists refer to short-term memory as Working Memory.
Working Memory is defined as a memory system that holds and processes the information that you are using currently while reading this article. Now, you may wonder what is the proof that an individual’s cognition has working memory as one of the memory types.
Several research studies showcased the existence of this kind of memory system. The most important findings made in this regard is the ‘Serial Position Curve’. Let’s have a look at the concept of the Serial Position Curve to better understand the working memory system.
Serial Position Curve
As per this finding, when an individual attempts to memorize a list of words, he is able to better remember the words appearing in the beginning and towards the end of the list relative to the words that appear in the middle.
That is to say, a chunk of unrelated words positioned at first and last of the list are remembered with greater accuracy as compared to the words placed in the middle of the list.
This happens because there exist two types of memory systems: short-term and long-term memory. Short-Term memory retains information for a few seconds whereas long-term memory holds information for longer periods of time.
Given this, individuals typically remember the words appearing last in the list pretty well because of the ‘arecency effect’. This is because these words are still afresh in the working memory when individuals are asked to recall the words they memorized in the list.
Likewise, they tend to remember words appearing at the beginning of the list because these words have already become a part of their long term memory.
Needless to say, words appearing in the middle of the list are forgotten because they have disappeared from the working memory and at the same time did not enter the long term memory. Thus, individuals tend to remember only a few of the words appearing in the list.
How Much Information Can Your Working Memory Hold?
As per the research findings, working memory can retain only about seven distinct items that can vary two above or two below.
That is to say, if any information more than this enters our working memory, such a memory system gets overloaded and if any fresh information enters the working memory, the existing information disappears.
Now, the seven distinct items that can be retained can contain pieces of information that in some way are associated with each other and can be put into groups to form a meaningful whole. These meaningful units of information are called chunks.
Thus, when information is stored in the form of chunks in the working memory, more amount of information can be retained by such a memory system.
Let’s consider an example to understand how the process of chunking can enable you to store large amounts of information in your working memory.
See the following list of letters: ICSWOTRSICUAHWOB. How many letters can you memorize if you get to see or hear this list once? It is likely that you would remember not more than seven letters.
What if the same list of letters is presented in the following way:
ICC USA WHO WTO RBS
Now, would you be able to remember more number of letters relative to the previous list? There are higher odds you did. This is because the letters are now presented as meaningful units, that is, initials of some famous organizations or places across the globe.
How Does Working Memory Process Information?
Baddeley in 1992 proposed a model depicting how working memory operates. As per this model, our working memory consists of three major components:
This component processes information associated with the sounds of words.
Visuospatial Sketch Pad
This part of the working memory processes visual and spatial information. That is to say, information with regards to the visual appearance of objects such as their size, shape, color, design, etc, and where exactly such objects are located in the space.
The Central Executive part oversees an coordinates the other two parts of the working memory.
III. Memory For Factual Information
Memory for factual information is the type of memory that stores information that can be remembered when needed at a later date and can be reported verbally.
Hence, such memory is also known as declarative or explicit memory as it enables you to recall details about a particular event at a future date when needed and express verbally details so recalled.
For instance, details with regards to the concepts you grasped in your last psychology class, details with regards to your friend’s birthday that took place last week, information that you need to perform specific skills such as walking, talking, dancing, writing, etc.
Now, memory for factual information further consists of two types of memories namely: Episodic and Semantic Memory. Let’s have a look at each of these to understand the types of memories that form part of your cognition system.
(i) Episodic Memory
This memory system enables you as an individual to retain the information you acquired at a particular time and place. As the name suggests, such memory allows you to go in the past and recall events, experiences, or thoughts that you had when such information was being presented to you.
There are various factors that impact episodic memory. These include:
Amount and Intervals at Which Practice is Undertaken
As an employee, you are required to remember a number of concepts, terms, processes, etc that act as the core of the job profile you are into. You may find at times that it is difficult for you to retain so many concepts and processes that you learn on the job.
You may forget things when you need them the most. Now, there are a number of ways you can improve your memory. One of the ways is the amount of practice that you undertake with regard to such concepts and processes.
The more you practice, the more you are able to retain information. However, this comes with a caveat. Larger gains take place initially when you try to learn the concept. However, as time passes improvement in memory slows down.
To fill this gap, you need to distribute your efforts to memorize the concepts over a period of time. For example, attempting to learn five concepts at a time would not be a better idea. However, learning a concept a day can help you memorize the concepts in a better way.
The Manner in Which Processing is Done
Another important factor impacting your episodic memory is the way in which you process the newly acquired information.
At times, you might find yourself in a situation where despite repeated reading of the concept, you are not able to retain much of the information contained in the concept.
However, if you delve deep, try to understand the meaning and associate the concept with the other information that you already process, chances are higher that you are able to remember the concept that you attempt to memorize.
The theory behind such a factor influencing your episodic memory is called ‘Levels of Processing View’. This view suggests that more deeply you try to process the given information, the more is its probability to be remembered.
That is to say that if you make little mental effort in understanding the concept in question such as simply repeating the text, there are fewer chances of such information being retained by you to be used in the future.
However, if you make a great effort to understand the concept in question deeply, such as its meaning, its relationship with the information that you already have, or the work in question, the chances of memorizing this information in a better way increase.
But there two questions that still exist when it comes to Level of Processing View. Firstly, it is challenging to objectively define a deeper level of understanding versus a shallow one.
Secondly, it is still not clear that a person can repeatedly read a text and not be conscious of or think about the meaning of the text.
Retrieval Cues is yet another important factor that impacts your episodic memory. These cues are nothing but stimulants that are associated with the information retained in the memory.
These stimulants aid in retrieving information when such information cannot be recalled instantly. In other words, retrieval cues help you in remembering information when needed.
Studies suggest that the more the number of retrieval cues you have better is your ability to remember information that is stored in your episodic memory.
However, there is no guarantee that a large number of retrieval cues will enable you to remember the information that you should remember.
Thus, to use retrieval cues in a way that helps you memorize things better, there is deeper research done with regards to the same.
The following research findings make use of a principle known as the Encoding Specificity Principle. This principle holds that retrieval cues help in
Context-Dependent Memory relates to a fact that information learned in one specific context or environment is easier to recall in a similar context or environment relative to a different one.
Say you try to grasp the concepts or processes required for your work in your room. While on the job, attempting to recall the information it would be helpful to imagine yourself back in your room where you tried to learn such concepts.
Now, doing so helps you better recall the concepts because it provides you with additional self-generated cues.
Not only this, physically going back to the location where you first learned the information is not necessary. Simply thinking about that context or location would be enough.
It’s not just the external cues that help your memory system to retain information and serve you with the same when needed. Your internal states can also play an important role in improvising your memory.
These internal states act as retrieval cues for information that is stored in your long term memory.
In other words, state-dependent retrieval refers to the fact that typically it is easier to recall information retained in the long-term memory when your internal state is similar to the state which existed at the time when you first learned the information.
Say, while sitting in your room grasping the concepts, you were having a cup of tea. Now, if you have a cup of tea while on the job, it will help you in recalling the information in a better way as it will serve you with retrieval cues that will ultimately improve your performance.
(ii) Semantic Memory
This is a type of memory system that is generic in nature. It stores general information about the world that one does not remember acquiring at a particular time or place.
Such a memory holds information that is generic in nature such as the meaning of words, events of everyday life, properties of objects, information that one learns during school years, etc.
Since large amounts of information are stored in the semantic memory of an individual, psychologists across the globe have focussed their attention on undertaking their research on how information is organized in semantic memory.
Organization of Information in Semantic Memory
When it comes to semantic memory, the information is organized as what is known as concepts. Concepts are nothing but a mental category for events and objects that are somehow similar to one another.
For instance, table, chair, cupboard, bed, etc come under the concept of furniture. There exist a number of views about how these concepts are formulated.
Network Model of Semantic Memory
As per this model, concepts exist as semantic networks in the semantic memory. Such networks showcase the relationships between the items that come under a particular concept. So in the network model of semantic memory, concepts showcase the relationships with other neighboring concepts.
Concepts As Prototypes
As per this view, concepts are formulated in the form of prototypes in semantic memory. Prototypes are nothing but an abstract and conceived depiction that captures an ideal member of a specific category of things.
For example, the prototype for a doctor in your semantic memory showcases the doctors that you have come across your life. The Prototype may represent that all doctors are typically middle-aged, intellectual, kind, and have grey strands.
Concepts as Exemplar
There exists another view that a particular concept is stored in the Semantic Memory, not as a prototype, that is, an average of a category of things but in the form of an exemplar. Thatis, an example of a particular category of things that can be easily brought to mind.
For example, whenever you come across the word stationery, you might of things like pen, paper, stick notes, etc. These are examples of the concept stationery and thus help you in deciding if the new object you come across is a part of stationery.
IV. Procedural Memory
Procedural Memory is a memory system that stores information one cannot easily put into words. Because one cannot verbally express the information stored in such a memory, it is also known as implicit memory.
For example, information that you need to undertake a skill such as playing the violin or singing a song, all form part of procedural memory.
Implicit means you know how to perform a particular activity but you are unable to put into words that information needed to perform a particular activity.
How To Study Procedural Memory?
You may wonder how is it possible to study procedural memory when one cannot put into words the information stored in such a memory. There are many ways in which psychologists study procedural memory. These are as follows:
(i) Priming Effect
Primming Effect refers to a research technique that includes individuals being exposed to stimuli just once which later enables him to recognize such stimuli even if he is unaware that such a thing is happening.
Priming Effect is also referred to as the difference between remembering and knowing. Remembering refers to the ability to report an event and the situation in which such an event took place.
Knowing, on the other hand, refers to the familiarity that one has with regards to a specific stimulus even if he or she cannot explicitly remember the same. Such familiarity also impacts our behavior.
In one of the studies conducted on the Priming Effect, one group of participants was exposed to adjectives related to the word honesty. These included adjectives like truthful, sincere, honorable, etc.
These words were showcased on the screen very quickly in a way that participants were unaware of such words as the words appeared blurred. Further, different words not related to honesty such as many, little, what, etc were showcased on the screen for another set of participants.
Sometime later, both the groups read the description of an imaginary person towards the end. They rated this imaginary person on various dimensions, some of which were related to honesty.
It was observed that the participants exposed to the words related to honesty rated this imaginary person higher on this trait relative to those who were exposed to other neutral words.
This proved that although participants were unaware of words related to honesty, they still rated the imaginary person higher on this trait due to a process known as the priming effect.
(ii) The Manner in Which Skills Are Acquired
Apart from Priming Effect, there is another piece of evidence that proclaims the existence of procedural memory. Such proof is provided by the manner in which skills are acquired.
When we begin to first learn a particular skill, we can think about what we are doing and can explicitly express our actions and what exactly are we learning. Eventually, as we happen to gain expertise over the skill, this explicit knowledge of skill is taken away by procedural knowledge.
That is to say, as time passes by, we lose the capability to put into words the actions that we perform. In other words, how are we able to pursue this skill.
While cooking food, your mind often wanders and thinks about different aspects of life. This may include instances that happened during the day, people you met a day before, or the conversations you undertook with your colleagues and friends.
As a consequence of such mental activity you often find yourself asking a very relevant question, ‘Did I add salt to the curry?’
It is quite common for all of us to experience such varying states of consciousness during different periods of the day. These varying states of consciousness are nothing but varying levels of awareness one has about himself, his behavior, and various other things surrounding him.
In this article, we will talk about what is consciousness, different states of consciousness, and the Indian view of consciousness.
What is Consciousness?
As per the scientific view, consciousness is purely a passive awareness of self. It is an important part of cognition and hence relies on various ways in which our brain works.
Thus, the scientific view takes the matter to be the primary reality and considers consciousness as a concept which can either be real or a subjective illusion.
However, if one considers the scientific view of consciousness he wonders as to how such concept as consciousness could be explained by the workings of a brain, which is purely materialistic in nature?
Thus, from a materialistic point of view, it is not understandable what is consciousness and why it even exists?
However, psychological knowledge that the Indian tradition has created over the ages does not face such challenges.
This is because the Indian school of thought assumes that consciousness is present throughout the universe and existed even before the existence of the universe.
Now, there are two schools of thought on consciousness within the Indian tradition.
As per the first view, pure consciousness s the primary reality of a living entity’s life. Whereas, the matter or physical world called Maya may or may not be an illusion.
The second Indian school of thought on consciousness proposes that consciousness is a primary reality whereas the matter or physical world is also equally a reality as consciousness.
This viewpoint of pure consciousness is explained quite well in the Mundaka Upanishad, which is explained in the next section.
States of Consciousness
The states of consciousness refer to varying levels of awareness that one has about oneself and the world around him. Each one of us experiences these changing states of consciousness every day.
For instance, we transit from more automatic processing like taking a shower, brushing teeth, walking, riding a bicycle to more controlled processing like reading a book, writing an article, doing office work which requires more focus either physically or mentally.
We also experience shifts in states of consciousness while we sleep or when we consume drugs. So, these states of consciousness compel us to pose questions like can we perform two activities simultaneously? Or what happens to consciousness when one sleeps or dreams?
So all these questions are answered with the help of various concepts that relate to consciousness and its varying level of states.
These include biological rhythms, waking states of consciousness, other states of consciousness like dream and sleep, concepts like hypnosis, and consciousness-altering drugs.
Following are various states of consciousness:
I. The Waking States of Consciousness
Say you go out at lunch with your friends and one of them shares her experience of a wedding in Thailand she attended two weeks back.
While she was narrating her experience, your mind wandered and you started thinking about what you would be doing when in Thailand. It seemed you were listening to your friend carefully and nodded your head to whatever she said.
But your mind was in a different world altogether. Instances like these suggest, even when we are awake, we experience different states of consciousness.
At one time, you might be focussing your attention on your friend’s wedding experience. But, in the very next moment, you are lost in the daydream. Let’s try o understand how our mind transits from one state of consciousness to another even when we are awake.
(a) Controlled and Automatic Processing
You must have experienced that we perform two tasks simultaneously at times. For example, listening to music while cleaning the house, watching a movie while binging on food, reading a book in the restroom, etc. But, you might be wondering how are we able to do this?
Well, there are two modes of thought or controlling activities that take place in the backdrop, that is, we are focussing attention on or consciously controlling our own behavior. This, we are able to do in two ways:
This is the first-way information is processed in our minds. Under automatic processing, the little information processing capacity of a human’s mind is utilized.
That is, under automatic processing, the information gets processed in an automatic manner with minimal conscious awareness of oneself or his actions.
Therefore, if you perform activities under automatic control, such activities can be performed simultaneously.
For instance, every time you clean your house while listening to music, you showcase automatic processing. This is because both activities automatically process information.
Why Automatic Processing Backfires at Times?
One of the most interesting facts about automatic processing relates to an individual’s effort to control his own mental processes as well as physical actions.
At times, such an effort goes wrong and leads to thoughts, feelings, or actions that such an individual doesn’t want.
For example, you watched a horror movie three days back and you want to think about the scary scenes that were showcased in the movie. Despite your conscious efforts, you are not able to forget about terrifying images that end up making you fearful.
Similarly while boiling milk on the flame, you do not want the milk to spill over. However, despite your conscious effort, you land up spilling the milk.
As per Daniel Wegner, a psychologist who has been researching on such effects suggests that these instances occur because our efforts to control our own thoughts or behaviors consist of a system that has two parts.
Intentional Operating Process
This is the process where your mind looks for information that will generate the state you desire to be in. Like avoiding scary images or spilling of milk. Thus, the intentional operating process involves controlled processing and hence an individual has to make a great amount of conscious effort under this.
Ironic Monitoring Process
This process looks for information within our minds that indicates our failure to achieve the desired states. Like thinking about scary scenes or spilling the milk. Thus, we can say that the ironic monitoring process involves automatic processing and hence requires a less conscious effort on the part of the individual.
Normally, both of these processes work simultaneously. One of the processes helps in maintaining those thoughts that we want in our minds. Whereas, the other process keeps unwanted thoughts out of consciousness.
However, it is important to note that if the information processing capacity gets overloaded, then the automatic processing dominates our minds, and hence we end up thinking, feeling, and performing actions that we don’t want to think, feel, or do.
Therefore, the ironic monitoring process explains why it is so challenging for certain people to focus on something like trying to understand a mathematical problem or a concept even when if they want to understand the same.
This is because the ironic monitoring process makes such individuals lose focus on the subject matter in hand and instead concentrate on signals that indicate that it is impossible to understand the subject matter at hand.
As opposed to automatic processing, controlled processing refers to the processing of information with comparatively high levels of conscious awareness. This type of processing involves more effort on the part of the individual to have conscious control over thought or behavior.
In this type of processing, an individual pays careful attention to the task at hand and concentrates on the same. Thus, controlled processing involves a great amount of cognitive effort on the part o the individual. Therefore, an individual can perform only one task that requires controlled processing at a time.
Amount of effort
Level of consciousness
High conscious awareness
Minimal conscious awareness
Difficulty to inhibit
Commonly Used Processing
Relatively less common
Relatively more common
Level of Efficiency
Self-awareness is a state of consciousness in which an individual focusses his attention inwards, upon himself. Now, there are various states of self-awareness, and accordingly an individual experiences a change in behavior.
So, let’s try to understand why we become self-aware, and what happens when we do?
Why We Become Self-aware and What Happens When We Do?
So, the first question that comes to mind when one talks about self – awareness is when does one enter this state? Primarily, there are two reasons behind it: our current situations and mood.
As per the first, an individual enters this state of consciousness when he is compelled to do so due to situations he is put into.
For example, when an individual needs to perform or get ready for some occasion. In situations like these, the individual is compelled to focus attention on himself.
So, when one concentrates upon himself, an intriguing process takes place in the background. This process can be explained with the help of the control theory.
As per the control theory, when an individual focusses his attention on himself, he compares his current state of feelings, thoughts, and performance to the internal standards set for the same.
That is, how he would like to feel, think, and act. If there is a little difference between his current state and such internal standards, then there is nothing to worry about.
However, if this difference is huge, then such a person has two alternatives:
First, he can either change his thoughts or actions in order to bring them closer to his internal standards and goals. This process is known as ‘Shape Up’.
The second alternative includes withdrawing from self-awareness by either distracting oneself or undertaking extreme actions, typically called ‘Shipping Out’. The distractions may include not thinking about oneself and one’s shortcomings. Whereas, extreme actions may include consuming alcohol, overeating, and more extreme actions like ending one’s life.
So, why do some people choose to shape up while others ship out? As per a research, people who believe that they can change their thoughts, feelings, and actions successfully are the ones who choose to shape up.
Such individuals focus their attention on meeting internal standards and goals as they believe that they can change for the good.
However, individuals who believe that it is impossible for them to change their feelings, thoughts, and actions may choose to escape from situations.
Thus, self-awareness impacts the behavior of an individual to a large extent.
Another factor that influences an individual to focus on himself is his current mood. As per many studies, an individual is more likely to focus attention inwards when he is in a negative mood than when he is in a positive one.
However, some recent studies indicate that there is a complex process behind moods influencing an individual to become aware of himself.
As per the studies, some moods like sadness and happiness influences an individual to think about himself and his feelings. Whereas, moods like excitement and anger influence an individual to think about other persons.
For example, an individual gets angry when he gets annoyed by the actions of other people. Thus, when one experiences anger, he thinks about another person rather than himself.
That means it’s not mandatory that negative moods influence us to focus our attention on ourselves and become self-aware. One thinks about oneself when moods are reflective in nature.
Another set of studies conducted recently proposes that when an individual experiences reflective moods like happiness and sadness, they focus their attention on inner thoughts and feelings. This is termed as private self-consciousness.
However, when individual experiences socially-oriented moods like excitement or anger, he does not experience self-awareness. Besides this, few people also focus on how they would appear to other people.
In other words, such people are conscious of their public image. This type of awareness of oneself is termed as public self-consciousness.
Huge differences exist when it comes to experiencing these three types of self-awareness among people.
Effects of Self-Awareness
In psychology, having an understanding of oneself is considered an important factor to adapt to different kinds of situations. In other words, people who have a clear understanding of themselves have a lesser chance of going through a mental imbalance.
However, research on private self-consciousness showcases a completely opposite pattern. People who are highly self-aware stand a greater chance to lose their mental balance than the ones who are relatively less self-conscious.
This is because when individuals focus their attention on themselves, they do so because of two different motives.
Firstly, they are inquisitive to know about themselves. This is known as reflection.
Secondly, they have fear of losses, injustices, shortcomings, or threats that motivate them to become self-aware. This is called rumination. Therefore, it is rumination and not a reflection that is the cause of many psychological problems in individuals.
Sleep refers to a process in which significant physiological changes like slowing down of basic bodily functions, shifts in brain activity are accompanied by major shifts in consciousness.
There are four states of sleep, each with its own characteristics in terms of changes in electrical activity inside our brain. Of the four states, Slow Wave Sleep, and REM Sleep are the primary states of sleep. Let’s learn how what functions each of these states performs.
(a) Slow-Wave Sleep
Following are the functions performed by slow-wave sleep:
Slow-wave sleep primarily performs the restorative function. That is, it allows our brain to rest and recover from overuse due to the day’s activities.
Evidence suggests that parts of the brain that experience excessive activity during the day showcase more slow-wave activity in those areas of the brain at night while we sleep.
That is, the areas of the brain that are most active during the day demonstrate high slow-wave activity during the night.
Another evidence suggests that there are certain species of marine mammals in which the two cerebral hemispheres sleep alternatively.
This indicates that sleep allows some areas of the brain to take rest. But, the reason why these mammals demonstrate this pattern of sleep is because they are not adapted to live in water as other marine organisms.
Therefore, they cannot allow both the brain hemispheres to sleep at the same time.
Lastly, other sets of studies indicate that intense physical activity may lead to increasing the slow-wave sleep. But, this happens only if these physical exercises increase the temperature of the brain.
This is because high brain temperature increases metabolism. Thus, one could conclude that slow-wave sleep may allow our brain to take rest after vigorous physical activity.
Relationship With Circadian Rhythms
Another function that slow-wave sleep performs is that it indicates the relationship of sleep with circadian rhythms. As per this view, sleep is one of the processes that came into existence to encourage species to slow down the activity during those times of the day when they do not perform activities that are necessary for their survival.
(b) REM Sleep
REM sleep refers to a state of sleep in which the brain’s activity is similar to the calmness while were are awake. This activity is further accompanied by muscle relaxation and eye movement.
This state of sleep plays an important role in learning as it allows an individual to recollect memories or activities undertaken a day before or eliminates unwanted memories from his brain.
As per the studies conducted on animals it was observed that animals who were trained but were not allowed to take REM sleep indicated poor levels of performance. Also, animals undertaking intense learning took more REM sleep relative to other times.
Dreams are events that take place in the brain and are often very clear and disconnected or jumbled. Dreams occurred during sleep and most of the dreams occurred during REM sleep. Certain characteristics of dreams include:
Everyone experience REM sleep or dream
The longer the dreams last, the longer such dreams really are
External events do become part of dreams
People forget or remember their dreams depending upon what they do when they wake up. If they lie down in bed quietly, they are able to recollect their dreams. However, if they jump out of the bed and start performing day-to-day activities, there is less chance that they remember their dreams.
There is no evidence that concludes that dreams predict future
There is no evidence that dreams indicate our sub-conscious wishes or desires
Since we are clear with what are dreams, let’s try to understand what are the various functions of dreams.
Functions of Dreams
Dreams Express Unconscious Wishes
Sigmund Freud demonstrated that dreams can be used to discover the thoughts, impulses, and desires in the unconscious mind of the individual. These impulses are not part of an individual’s conscious experience.
That is, they lie outside its realm. Freud believed that an individual can voice his impulses and desires which he finds unacceptable when he is awake in his dreams.
Thus, Freud was able to access the dreams of his patients and obtained useful information pertaining to reasons underlying their problems.
Physiological View of Dreams
Another perspective of dreams indicates that dreams are quite subjective an experience that pertains to the random activity taking place inside the individual’s brain.
Biological rhythms refer to cyclic or regular changes in the bodily processes and in the level of consciousness over a period of time.
Many such changes or fluctuations occur over a single day or over a period of time, say close to a month. These biological rhythms are responsible for making an individual energetic or alert during different times of the day.
Thus, these rhythms help in explaining why some people are active during the early hours of the day. Or why some people cannot work till late at night.
As mentioned earlier, the biological rhythms also occur over longer periods. The most relevant example that explains fluctuations in the bodily processes over a period of time is the human female menstrual cycle, which occurs approximately after twenty-eight days.
If cyclical changes in the bodily processes and mental alertness occur over the course of a single day, such fluctuations are referred to as Circadian Rhythms.
Nature of Circadian Rhythms
The daily fluctuations in bodily processes occur in the form of production of hormones, changes in body temperature, fluctuation in the level of blood pressure, and many other processes.
For a few persons, these bodily processes reach their peak during the afternoon or late evening and they are at their lowest level during the early hours of the day.
Thus, we can say that as far as changes in bodily processes are concerned, there exists a large difference between different individuals.
Therefore, the pattern of circadian rhythms varies to a great extent in different individuals. In addition to this, these rhythms transit as an individual grows old. That is the circadian rhythms are highest during the early hours of the day when one grows old.
Why are Circadian Rhythms Important?
Now, you might be wondering why these circadian rhythms are so important in an individual’s day to day life.
As mentioned earlier, the circadian rhythms impact the level of alertness in an individual during different times of the day and hence influences the task performance of an individual to a great extent.
Typically, an individual performs all physical tasks to the best of his capability when body temperature and other internal processes are at their peak. However, high body temperature might not be appropriate to perform tasks that require much cognitive effort.
Therefore, the question arises on how the fluctuations in these bodily processes, mental alertness, and performance of the task are controlled or regulated?
How are Circadian Rhythms Regulated?
Well, a portion in the hypothalamus area of the brain, known as Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) plays a significant role in regulating the Circadian Rhythms.
Individual cells in SCN keep track of time. This is evident from the studies conducted by Welsh and his colleagues. As a part of these studies, they removed the tissue from the SCN of rats and noticed the activity of individual cells with the Nucleus.
The study revealed that each cell showcased regular cycles of activity.
It is important to note that SCN does not only regulate the internal processes but also responds to the external world. That is, SCN responds to the morning light where the light reboots the internal body clock and harmonizes it with the world outside.
This is necessary because if our internal clock is not rebooted each day, then it will operate on a twenty-five-hour cycle. This would make our biological rhythms go out of sync with the outside world.
This fact was proved in a study where the subjects stayed in caves where no sunlight could enter. This made the persons shift to a twenty-five-hour cycle in a day.
There is a group of people who find Psychology as a discipline to be very interesting. This is because it not only gives them gripping details about themselves and others but also help them solve problems that they go through in their individual lives.
Then, there also exists a group of people who question it’s worth and do not consider it to be a scientific discipline. Rather, they perceive Psychology to be a part of a person’s common reasoning.
If you have come across this query, you either could be a raving fan of Psychology who wants to understand how psychology influences human behavior. Whereas, if you belong to the second group of people, you certainly are a cynic. For you, it is quite challenging to believe that Psychology as a discipline studies human behavior and uses scientific methods to undertake such a study.
Well, if you are a fan, then this article will certainly give you interesting insights on what psychology is all about. And how it helps in studying the human mind and behavior. However, if you are the one who doubts Psychology as a scientific discipline, this article would help you understand Psychology with a different paradigm altogether.
What is Psychology?
According to American Psychological Association, Psychology is a study of mind and behavior. This definition consists of two parts.
The first relates to study of behavior which means everything that human beings do or say. It includes our observable activities and responses to various events. Thus, behavior comprises everything that can be seen and hence evaluated.
The other part of the definition deals with the study of mind or cognitive processes. These include various facets of the functioning of the human mind such as perceptions, memories, thoughts, reasoning etc.
Thus, Psychology as a discipline has a wide scope given that it is a science of both the human mind and behavior. Simply labeling it as a part of human’s common reasoning would not be completely correct as it encompasses a vast array of theories and principles that defies this belief.
Origin of Psychology
Philosophers Started Questioning The Relationship Between Mind And Body
Modern Western Science has its roots in the 16th Century Renaissance period. This is the period where various European Artists, Writers, Scientists and Thinkers made new advances in Art, Science and Literature.
The Renaissance is described as an era where monks like Martin Luther challenged the foundations of Roman Catholicism. And led to Protestant Reformation. Also, Philosophers like Rene’ Descartes started focusing on questions like the relationship between mind and body, mind’s perception about the external world, etc.
Until this time, Philosophers solely used reasoning to cater to such questions. But with the coming of the Modern Western Science and eventually towards the end of the 19th Century Philosopher concluded that reasoning alone would not be sufficient to answer such questions about the human mind. Observation too would be needed to decode such questions about the human mind.
Increasing Role of Physiology
Physiology started playing its part as physiologists had been using scientific techniques to examine the nervous system. These Physiologists determined how nerves were responsible for carrying the electric signals within the body. And how we perceived the outside world.
This is what led the philosophers believe in the fact that scientific methods can be used to study the human mind. Hence, this gave birth to the idea of Psychology as a scientific study.
Birth of Psychology
Wilhelm Wundt, who is known as the founder of experimental psychology, thus established the first laboratory for research in Psychology in 1879 at the University of Leipzig. Further, G. Stanley Hall, the pioneering American Psychologist, was the one responsible for getting Psychology to United States. In addition to this, he founded the Laboratory of Psychology at Johns Hopkins in 1883 as well as supported in starting the American Psychological Association in the year 1892.
Challenges in Psychology
One of the major challenges that Psychologists faced was with regards to the areas that should form part of the field of psychology. Should it be a study of consciousness or should it be the one that deals with the inner states of mind or the unconscious.
Let’s have a look at the views of various Psychologists with regards to the focus areas of Psychology.
This view regarding Psychology was given by William Wundt. He suggested that Psychology should be a study of the components of consciousness and the relationships between various components.
He emphasized that the elements of consciousness can be understood by exposing trained people to external drivers in a controlled manner. Eventually, observations or comments need to be noted down regarding their reactions or responses to such external factors.
This is what encompassed Structuralism. However, this ideology could not stand the test of time. But the only thing that was carried forward was the adoption of research to study Psychology.
Structuralism as a view was condemned by William James, the renowned American Philosopher and Psychologist. He suggested that instead of studying the components of consciousness, Psychology should focus on studying the functions of consciousness.
This is because consciousness is a distinctive quality that human beings are blessed with. It evolves over a period of time and certainly performs significant functions for human beings.
Like Structuralism, Functionalism too disappeared but it did have an everlasting impact on the field of Psychology. Moreover, the very idea of consciousness evolving and serving important functions for human beings laid foundation for the next evolution in the discipline of Psychology, that is, Behaviorism.
Functionalism as a focus area of Psychology was challenged by the American Psychologist, John B. Watson. He suggested that Psychology as a discipline should not concentrate on consciousness or experience. Rather, the field of Psychology should focus on the behavior of a human being.
He opinionated that principles in Psychology must be defined based on only action or reaction of human beings that can be observed and measured. Watson advocated that cognition and other internal states should be ignored and only observable behavior must be the focus area of Psychology.
This view received great acknowledgement. Thus, Behaviorism had put an end to all the former challenges that the field of Psychology had to encounter. But Behaviorism as a view too had to face the test of time.
4. Other Challenges
As mentioned above, Behaviorism as a view in Psychology had put an end to the former challenges and thus influenced the field of Psychology for a long period of time. However, it too had to face challenges.
One of the challenges came from Sigmund Freud, an Austrian Neurologist and the founder of Psychoanalysis. Frued argued that the unconscious mind consists of processes that take place automatically. Such processes are not available to examine one’s own thoughts and feelings.
Another body of psychologists, known as humanistic Psychologists, too challenged the behaviorism view of Psychology. They claimed that people do not repeat behaviors that lead to positive consequences and do away with behaviors that lead to negative ones. Rather they have independent will and get encouraged through inner motivation for individual growth.
Lastly, cognitive revolution challenged the Behaviorism view of Psychology in a big way. Such a revolution laid emphasis on the study of various cognitive processes such as memory, thoughts, reasoning etc. Furthermore, the latest developments in technology allowed researchers to make the previously unobservable inner processes observable.
This was undertaken by making individuals vulnerable to certain external factors in a controlled environment and measure their responses with accuracy.
Issues in Psychology
Over a period of time, Psychology as a discipline has been dealing with a number of key challenges. These relate to:
Stability Vs Change
All of the individuals remain the same to some degree and change to a certain extent. This challenge deals with the question to what extent individuals change and to what extent they do not.
Rationality Vs Irrationality
There are situations where individuals tend to behave unreasonably not knowing as to why they behaved in this manner. For instance, getting angry on someone not because the person had actually committed a mistake. But because you were in a bad mood.
Nature Vs Nurture
This issue relates to the question to what extent individuals behave in a particular way due to their genetic makeup. And to what extent they behave as a result of the experiences they gain over a period of time.
Perspectives in Psychology
Suppose, you are in the midst of solving a puzzle. You try really hard to put it together but are unable to do so. Finally, you decide to call your friend to help you decode the puzzle. The moment your friend joins, he is able to connect the dots and solve the puzzle for you.
The situation above is common and happens to almost everyone of us everyday. Psychologists tend to study situations like these from various perspectives. Since studying human behavior is complex in nature, these exist different perspectives from which such a study can be undertaken. These are as follows:
Focuses on visible behavior
For instance, you are trying to solve the puzzle, seeking help from your friend, your friend being able to solve the puzzle
Focuses on the thought process of the individual
For instance, you being unable to solve the puzzle with your own techniques and methods. Whereas, your friend being able to do it easily with his method as he is used to solving this kind of problem
Focuses on biological processes that are responsible for your behavior
For instance, you got impulsive and did not have the perseverance to solve the puzzle further. Whereas, your friend kept his calm and didn’t give up.
Focuses on the change in behavior and the processes of mind over a period of time
For instance, whether with the growing age your ability to solve the puzzle has faded away
Focuses on the unconscious motivations
For instance, just because you wanted to somehow win the game of solving the puzzle, you took your friend’s support to do the same. The intent was to win somehow for you could not see yourself losing.
Social and Cultural
Focuses on social and cultural factors that impact your behavior
For instance, your friend comes from a culture where people have more patience to deal with the tasks at hand.