Can your brain trick you? (Different types of cognitive distortions)

In this blog post, we try to answer the question ‘Can your brain trick you?. By doing so we will look at what are cognitive distortions, different kinds of cognitive distortions, and how to manage those distortions. In addition, we will look at the different ways your brain can trick you. 

Can your brain trick you? 

Yes, your brains can trick you every now and then. Your brain tricking you can either be a good or a bad thing.your brain usually tricks you with what is known as Cognitive distortions. Here are a few cognitive distortions that your brain uses to trick you: 

  • Mental  Filtering
  • Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking)
  • Overgeneralization
  • Jumping to Conclusions
  • Catastrophizing
  • Personalization
  • Should Statements
  • Emotional Reasoning
  • Labeling
  •  Always Being Right

Our brain is the sharpest and the most intelligent part of the human body that might exist in the universe. It is the most difficult organ to study. Our brain is the reason we comprehend, reason, and make decisions about the smallest of the smallest to the most significant things in our life. They are wired to alert us to danger, to think, to learn new things, to retain memories, and to find solutions to problems we face every day. 

However, it will not be wrong to say that our brains are not innocent. Sometimes our own brain deceits us. Remember the times when you cannot sleep because you are overthinking? Or the times when an intrusive thought does not leave your side? Our brains use the power of thoughts to control us every now and then. Occasionally there may be times where you want to question what message your brain is telling you. Over time you may have developed some faulty connections called cognitive distortions.

Therefore to answer the question ‘Can your brain trick you?’ i would say yes most certainly your brain can trick you. This tricking of the brain has a psychological term known as cognitive distortions. 

What are cognitive distortions? 

Cognitive distortions are simply ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative thinking or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only serve to keep us feeling bad about ourselves. 

In 1976, psychologist Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions and in the 1980s, David Burns was responsible for popularizing it with common names and examples for the distortions. 

David Burns in his book  Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy tried to explain that our thoughts determine our mood. Therefore, when someone frequently engages in happy thoughts, they feel happy. However, when someone frequently indulges in negative thoughts, it follows that the person’s mood will be negatively affected as well. Or, in other words, thinking unhappy thoughts leads to feeling unhappy feelings. Those who have fallen into a rut of negative thinking often are engaging not just in negative thoughts but cognitive distortions – false negative thoughts. These types of constant, negative, cognitive distortions are unhealthy and can contribute to disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Cognitive distortions, therefore, matter because they have the power to make you sick in a very real sense.

Different kinds of cognitive distortions 

Now that we have understood what cognitive distortions are and how they trick our brain. In section, we will look at the most common cognitive distortions.

  • Mental  Filtering: A person engaging in mental filtering takes the negative details and magnifies those details while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation. For instance, a person may pick out a single, unpleasant detail and dwell on it exclusively. 
  • Polarized Thinking (or “Black and White” Thinking): In polarized thinking, things are either “black-or-white” — all or nothing. We have to be perfect or we’re a complete and abject failure — there is no middle ground. A person with polarized thinking places people or situations in “black/white” categories, with no shades of gray. 
  • Overgeneralization: In overgeneralization, a person comes to a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens just once, they expect it to happen over and over again. For instance, if a student gets a poor grade on one paper they conclude they are a horrible student and not fit for the school. 
  • Jumping to Conclusions:  A person who jumps to conclusions thinks they know what the other person is feeling and thinking — and exactly why they act the way they do. Jumping to conclusions can also manifest itself as fortune-telling, where a person believes their entire future is determined. 
  • Catastrophizing: When a person engages in catastrophizing, they expect disaster to strike, no matter what. This is also referred to as magnifying. The person usually makes a mountain out of a molehill. For example, a person might exaggerate the importance of insignificant events such as their mistake, or someone else’s achievement. 


  • Personalization: Personalization is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is a reaction to them. They literally take everything personally, even when something is not meant in that way. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused everyone to have a terrible time’.
  • Should Statements: Should statements like “I should pick up after myself more…” appear as a list of ironclad rules about how every person should behave. People who break the rules make a person following these should statements angry. They also feel guilty when they violate their own rules. For example, “I really should exercise. I shouldn’t be so lazy.” The emotional consequence is guilt. 
  • Emotional Reasoning: Emotional Reasoning can be summed up by the statement, “If I feel that way, it must be true.” Whatever a person is feeling is believed to be true automatically and unconditionally. If a person feels stupid and boring, then they must be stupid and boring. The person who engages in emotional reasoning assumes that their unhealthy emotions reflect the way things really are — “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” they lack reason and logic.
  • Labeling:   labeling is when a person generalizes one or two qualities into a negative global judgment about themselves or another person. This is an extreme form of overgeneralizing. For example, they may say, “I’m a loser” in a situation where they failed at a specific task, without bothering to understand any context around why. 
  •  Always Being Right: When a person engages in this distortion, they are continually putting other people on trial to prove that their own opinions and actions are the absolute correct ones. To a person engaging in “always being right,” being wrong is unthinkable and they will go to any length to demonstrate their rightness.

Can cognitive distortions be fixed?

We know that our brain tricks us using cognitive distortions. But can we control or fix these distortions in order to avoid the emotional baggage? Yes, we can. 

Below lie a few ways to fix our cognitive distortions: 

  • Look out for your possible cognitive distortions – Create a list of thoughts that are troubling you to examine and match up with a list of cognitive distortions to see which thought processes you tend to lean toward.
  • Find the evidence – Examine your experiences that could be the basis of your distorted thinking.  Try to identify other situations where you had success or that proves the thought is not true.  For example, if you are being critical and thinking “Billy is always late” you should examine the thought and likely think of at least one time Billy was on time.  
  • Evaluate in a different way – Instead of thinking in an all-or-nothing way try to gauge the situation on a scale of 1-10.  When something does not go right evaluate it as a partial success.  Focus on what I did go right and perhaps rate it as a 6/10.
  • Define terms – Define terms to examine what they mean.  Examining global labels will help you see a specific behavior associated with the label and not a person as a whole. If you think you always fail, then define the term failure. Think about what actions made you think you were a failure and if the definition truly fits you as a person.
  • Survey a trusted friend – When in doubt, ask a friend.  If you think you might be blowing something out of proportion, check with a trusted friend. Ask them if they think your feelings are justified.

How does our brain get to trick us? 

Our brain likes to take shortcuts 

Our brain is plain lazy. When we are trying to make our life decisions, our brain usually resorts to shortcuts. These shortcuts are known as heuristics,  Using shortcuts allows you to make decisions quickly without having to laboriously sort through each and every possible solution. But sometimes these mental shortcuts, can trip you up and cause you to make mistakes 

The blame game 

Our brain likes to play the blame game. have you found yourself saying ‘the test was so hard. All the questions were out of syllabus.’

We have a natural tendency to look for an underlying cause to blame when something bad occurs. We habitually blame the external forces and alter the reality in our minds to protect our image and pride. This habit is known as the fundamental attribution error.

Our thinking is swayed by hidden biases 

These are predispositions that can influence how you perceive people like the halo effect,  how you perceive events -the hindsight bias,  and what aspects of a situation you pay attention to when making a decision- the attributional bias and the confirmation bias, which can lead you to place greater emphasis on things that confirm what you already believe ignoring anything that opposes your existing ideas.

Therefore, it is very easy for our brains to trick us. 


In this blog post, we have tried to answer the question can your brain trick you?. By doing so we have looked at what are cognitive distortions, different kinds of cognitive distortions, and how to manage those distortions. In addition, we have looked at the different ways how your brain can trick you. 

FAQs: Can your brain trick you?

Can your brain trick you into feeling pain?

Yes, your brain can trick you into feeling pain. research also shows that as well as being tricked into experiencing pain, the brain can also be fooled into experiencing pain relief. The recent study involved researchers carrying out the rubber hand illusion, and then using a thermos to deliver intense pain stimulation on selected sites of the real arm. 

What time of day is your brain sharpest?

Learning is most effective when the brain is in acquisition mode, generally between 10:00 am to 2:00 p.m. and then again from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. 

What causes cognitive distortions?

A cognitive distortion takes place in our minds when we experience an upsetting event in our lives — a disagreement at work, an argument with a partner, a poor result in school — and we think about it in a way that reinforces negativity and feeling bad.


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