Teachers’ Summary Chart of Automatic Thoughts, Information Processing Styles, and Correction Strategies

There are many distorted information processing styles and automatic thoughts that we can learn to recognize and then correct. This chart contains some of the most common processing styles, examples of the resulting automatic thoughts, as well as a strategy to intervene.

(You may choose to discuss only selected information processing distortions, or may cover all of them over several sessions rather than all at once.)

Distorted Info. Processing Style
Automatic Thought (e.g.)
Correction Strategy
1. Arbitrary inference: no evidence supports the conclusion, or the conclusion is contrary to the evidence
“Luck gets you into college, not good grades.”
Accumulate hard evidence to test the conclusion.
2. Overgeneralization: general conclusion is drawn from a single event; jumping to conclusions
“My teachers all think I’m lazy.”
Examine how much evidence supports or opposes the conclusion; have student provide alternative conclusions
3. Catastrophizing: overreaction; gross exaggeration of an event, withfocus on the worst case scenario; “awfulizing”
“I know I’ll fail the test so I’m not going to bother studying.”
In terms of percentages, look at the odds of the worst case happening; look at past successes
4. Minimization: gross underestimation of an event; tendency to downplay a cause when other reasons are present
“My poor work habits are no big deal because the teacher doesn’t check my work.”
List short- and long-term consequences; how does this impact on you, regardless of your teacher?
5. Dichotomous thinking: interpreting events in absolutes, with no tolerance for uncertainty; good or bad, right or wrong, etc.; unreasonable expectations
“I’m a complete failure.” “If I can’t do it perfectly I’m not going to even try.”
Think in percentages; acknowledge that this is all-or-none thinking; seek middle ground or “grey” areas
6. Fallacy of fairness: believing that what one wants is the only thing that is fair
“I should be able to do whatever I want in school.”
Fairness is usually a disguise for personal preferences. Make specific, concrete suggestions; be willing to compromise
7. “Should” fallacies: holding inflexible personal rules and expectations; reality is inconsistent with our expectations for how it should be
“I have to get a 100% on every test.”
Compare the “shoulds, oughts and musts” to your wants; recognize that the world will not always be consistent with your existing schema
8. Mind reading: without their saying so, one believes one knows exactly what people are thinking, especially with regard to oneself
“People know I should have succeeded and now they think I’ll never be able to do anything.”
Examine the evidence; list specific people who think this and why; how did they show it?
9. Stereotyping: superficial belief about an entire group without recognizing individual differences
“All my teachers expect me to be perfect.”
Seek exceptions; discuss particulars rather than the group
Distorted Info. Processing Style
Automatic Thought (e.g.)
Correction Strategy
10. Selective perception: details are taken out of context; ignoring the whole picture to focus only on things of interest
“I don’t have to be good at English because I’m good at computers.”
Instead of focusing on the problem, shift to a plan to improve the situation.
11. Loss of perspective: salient features are ignored; mental filtering
“I can’t do this math so I’ll never get into a good college.”
Same as above: Solution-focused approach
Distorted Info. Processing Style
Automatic Thought (e.g.)
Correction Strategy
12. Personalization: unsupported perception that an event reflects upon oneself
“Teachers in this school hate losers, so I’ll never do well here.”
Examine the validity; seek evidence; Attribution theory
13. Emotional reasoning: perceiving affective data as fact
“I’m stupid if I don’t know an answer.”
Point out the difference between “objective” fact and personal emotion/feelings; Attribution theory
Distorted Info. Processing Style
Automatic Thought (e.g.)
Correction Strategy
14. Internal control fallacy: belief that one is responsible for others’ problems
“If I don’t do well at school, my parents will never be happy.”
Choice Theory: You are only responsible for yourself.
15. External control fallacy: blaming others for own problem
“It’s not my fault I don’t do well.”
Choice Theory: No one else can “make” you do or feel anything.
16. Fallacy of change: believing that another person must be pressured to change so that one can be happy.
“If I could get my math teacher to lay off me everything would be okay.”
Choice Theory: Your happiness depends on changes made in yourself, not on getting others to change.
Distorted Info. Processing Style
Automatic Thought (e.g.)
Correction Strategy
17. Ad Hominem: attacking a person rather than dealing with an issue
“My teacher is out to get me.”
18. Resistance to change: decisions are inflexible; refusal to change a behavior even if it is causing problems
“There’s no use trying anything.”