Beck's cognitive triad

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A diagram showing Beck's cognitive triad

Beck's cognitive triad, also known as the negative triad,[1][2] is an irrational and pessimistic view of the three key elements of a person's belief system present in depression. It was proposed by Aaron Beck in 1976. The triad forms part of his cognitive theory of depression.[3]

The triad involves negative thoughts about:

  • The self (i.e., I am worthless)
  • The world/environment (i.e., the world is unfair), and
  • The future (i.e., the future is hopeless).

In depression[edit]

From a cognitive perspective, depressive disorders are characterized by people's dysfunctional negative views of themselves, their life experience (and the world in general), and their future—the cognitive triad.

Depressed patients often view themselves as deficient, helpless and/or unlovable. They tend to attribute their unpleasant experiences to their presumed physical, mental, and/or moral deficits. They tend to feel excessively guilty, believing that they are worthless, blameworthy, and rejected by self and others. They may have a very difficult time viewing themselves as people who could ever succeed, be accepted, or feel good about themselves.

Cognitive biases[edit]

Some of the most striking manifestations of this area of cognitive bias are such patients' tendency to overlook their positive attributes, disqualify their accomplishments as being minor or meaningless, and misinterpret the care, good will, and concern of others as being based on pity or susceptible to being lost easily if those others knew the “real” patient. The main cognitive biases according to beck are summarised below:[1][4]

Depressed patients view their lives as devoid of pleasure or reward, presenting insuperable obstacles to achieving their important goals. Everything seems and feels “too hard to manage” and other people are seen as punishing (or potentially so).

They believe that their troubles will continue indefinitely, and that the future will only bring further hardship, deprivation, and frustration. “Paralysis of the will” results from the depressed patients' pessimism and hopelessness. Expecting their efforts to end in failure, they are reluctant to commit themselves to growth-oriented goals, and their activity level drops. Believing that they cannot affect the outcome of various situations, they experience a desire to avoid such situations.

Suicidal wishes are an extreme expression of the desire to escape from problems that appear to be uncontrollable, interminable, and unbearable.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gross, Richard (2015). Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour 7th Edition. Hodder Education. pp. 796, 797. ISBN 978-1471829734. 
  2. ^ Cardwell, Flanagan, Mike, Cara (2015). Psychology A Level Year 1 and AS: The Complete Companion Student Book. OUP. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-19-833864-2. 
  3. ^ "Overview of Beck's Cognitive Theory of Depression". Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  4. ^ Davison, Neale, G.D, M (2001). Abnormal Psychology (8th Ed.). J Wiley. ISBN 978-0471318118. 
  5. ^ "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy | CBT | Simply Psychology". Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  • Beck, Aaron T.; Rush, A. John; Shaw, Brian F.; Emery, Gary. (1979). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 11. ISBN 0-89862-919-5.
  • Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry