How We Feel Mirrors How We Think
Exploring the science of cognitive distortions
Depression is typically defined as a mood disorder, which is why people mostly think about it in terms of emotion. That’s certainly not an inaccurate conception, but it misses a crucial cognitive side to the problem. Emotions aren’t an isolated construct in the brain; they interact with every part of our life and change the way we think and make decisions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments currently available for depression, and it seems to work well for people diagnosed with clinical depression and also people with milder depressive symptoms. One of the core tenets of CBT is that depression and other psychological problems are partly caused by maladaptive ways of thinking or “cognitive distortions.” Alleviating those distortions can help you feel better.
Research is now looking into how cognitive distortions affect everyday language by analyzing people’s social network messages. This naturalistic approach to language analysis is improving our understanding of the connection between how we think and how we feel. So here’s a look at that work, together with some examples of cognitive distortions that you might find in your own thinking.
Cognitive distortions on Twitter
In a study published in early 2021, a team of researchers at Indiana University Bloomington combed through Twitter looking for users who identified as clinically depressed. A computer program first identified tweets containing keywords such as “diagnosed” and “depressed,” and the researchers then checked that list manually to pick out clear expressions of a clinical diagnosis such as “I was just diagnosed with clinical depression.”
The researchers identified 1035 Twitter users who communicated that they were diagnosed with depression, and they analyzed a total of 1.5 million tweets from those users. They then compiled tweets from another random group of users who had created Twitter accounts on similar dates to the depressed group but had not identified themselves as…