Can the framing of a message change how I process that information?

Mental Health

A: YES! Thought pathways and subsequent actions are often influenced by the way information is received.

This post will highlight a few common cognitive distortions AND tips for reframing information for more objective actions.

A cognitive distortion is defined by the American Psychological Association as “faulty or inaccurate thinking, perception, or belief”. Cognitive distortions interrupt rational thinking and happen automatically in our brain. It is possible to take advantage of these cognitive distortions to promote a specific agenda. Repetitive cognitive distortions can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. Social media and the influx of news related to COVID-19 create an environment ripe for cognitive distortions. Cognitive reframing can help to catch cognitive distortions happening in real time to limit negative feelings and improve the processing of information and decision making. Here are a few scenarios to watch out for.

All-or-Nothing Thinking. So few situations have two clear cut “sides”. Extremes are easier for the mind to handle. Avoid placing ideas or people into one of two extremes when there is a large middle.

Emotional Reasoning. Personal stories carry additional weight in our brain but often lack generalizable data. Both personal stories and population level statistics are important. Recognize when your heart strings are being tugged and take the next step to find additional information on the topic.

Confirmation Bias. Our brains seek information that confirms our underlying beliefs. That doesn’t mean our underlying beliefs are necessarily correct. Commit additional energy to learning about perspectives different from your own to remain objective in your thoughts.

Magnification and Minimization. Focusing on one small detail without considering the whole can distort perceptions. The most talked about or shared “fact” on a given topic may overshadow other important details to consider. Train your brain to combat soundbites by seeking knowledge about the broader issue. Fit the soundbite into the larger puzzle.

Should Statements. Being told you should do something can invoke feelings of guilt, shame, and other negative emotions. Label these feelings when they occur. Seek additional information to guide your decision. Instead, the use of “I” statements in communications can express a personal thought process that may resonate with others.

General guidance for limiting cognitive distortions:

Be aware that cognitive distortions exist. Call them out when you see them to slow down your brain. Acknowledge your underlying beliefs. Seek out evidence on all sides.

Those Nerdy Girls

Additional Resources:

Cognitive Restructuring published on Medium

Cognitive Distortions and COVID Opinion Piece published on MedPage

Link to Original FB Post