Cognitive Triad (A Comprehensive Guide)

The model of cognitive triad was developed by Aaron Beck which is also referred to as negative triad.

In our daily lives, we kept on thinking about ourselves, others and future. The way we think about is directly linked with our wellbeing.

This cognitive triad presents the cognitive therapeutic side of the belief system of an individual suffering from depression.

The cognitive triad was developed in 1976 by Aaron Beck. This triad gives rise to cognitive theory of depression and the conceptual frame is being used as part of cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Beck used this especially in his approach of Treatment of Negative Automatic Thoughts. In this article we will discuss cognitive triad. 

Cognitive triad consists of instant, automatic and apparently uncontrollable cycle of negative thoughts about:

  • The self
  • The world or environment
  • The future

For instance negative thinking consists of:

Negative thoughts about “The self”  may be as, I don’t have any worth and I’m not good looking as well or I pray that I should be different. 

Negative Thoughts about “The world” may be as, nobody gives me importance or I’m being ignored by everyone all the time. 

Negative thoughts about “The future” may be as, i have given up hopes because nothing is going to be changed or everything will only get worse.

This theory of cognitive triad presented by Aaron Beck is considered as the most influential theory among all for determining the causes of depression and it also provides different methods to cope with depression.

Firstly, it is important to note that depression is considered as the most commonly found disorder.

This is the reason why so many efforts have been made to find out its root cause.

Being extremely sad, losing interest in your own life, continuing emergence of negative thoughts and feeling drained and lack of motivation are few common symptoms found in depressive people. 

Psychology offers many different approaches which intend to have understanding of disorders but our focus is cognitive triad.

The aim of cognitive theories is not only to focus the activities of people but also how they see the world and themselves. 

What is Beck’s cognitive triad?

The cognitive triad is a leading cognitive theory Beck has developed.

This theory is based on his wide clinical experience with the patients of depression.

It came into the notice of Asron Beck that the depressive patients used to assess things with negative angle and self critical position. 

 We as common people also use to do evaluation of what happened to them and what they do as similar to the patients Beck did.

People less often get awareness of their assessments but sometimes they don’t. 

Beck was of the view that those people who have negative thoughts usually automatically and rapidly as a reflex and these thoughts are uncontrollable.

These thoughts are then followed by a stream of emotional negativity for example, despair, fear and sadness.

Aaron Beck had made three categories for these negative thoughts of individuals with depression and gave them a name of cognitive triad. 

  • Thinking negatively about oneself. 
  • One’s which are about their present existences
  • One’s which are about their future. 

Thinking negatively about oneself intends to convince oneself of not being a worthy person, inability to be adaptive and responsive about the requests of others.

An individual with depression will blame his challenges and failures on his personal shortcomings and Inability.

Even in those circumstances which offer many other credible explanations and reasons that had impacted the results, the individual with depression will yet be the one to consider himself guilty. 

Thinking negatively about the future will make an individual hopeless.

The individual will believe that his shortcomings and inadequacies prevented him from improving his way of life. 

Beck’s Cognitive Triad and Cognitive Distortions as the Root Cause of Depression

The individual with depression will commit systematic mistakes of thinking unwillingly which is cognitive distortion.

These distortions will guide the person to create false perceptions about facts in such a style which will contribute to building his understanding negatively. 

The depressed people are characterised by the cognitive distortions are:


When a person tends to draw a conclusion on the basis of one event, this is known as overgeneralization.

Take an example of a girl, whose partner was unfaithful with her will think that all men are not loyal or all men are cheaters.

Selective Abstraction

Selective abstraction refers to being more focused about the unimportant information and ignoring the significant details of situations.

Take an example of a manager who appreciates the performance of his employee and the employee interprets this as censured disapproval as the tone of manager seemed rough.

The amplification and generalization of facts

The amplification and generalization of facts refers to extending the negativity, unimportant circumstances and reducing positivity.

Take an example of a person who after successfully negotiating finds his car scratched and thinks it to be catastrophic and ignoring the fact the they were previously successful at their workplace.


This refers to not being able to manage the negativity from an external event.

For example, if the mood of a depressed person gets spoiled by rain he will think that it’s not rain which caused this but will consider himself guilty for mood swings. 

The arbitrary presentation

This refers to draw Inference even when the conclusion is only supported by little evidence.

For example an individual inferes that his wife is depressed and sad just because she is not satisfied with him.

But on getting into a conversation with him the person gets to know that his wife is depressed and sad because something else is not entirely related to him. 

When a person gets depressed all this distortion will further strengthen his image about himself as an unworthy individual who is guilty for every kind of failure and adverse situation. 

The person who got depressed tends to see his life as immune to being happy or rewarded by putting invincible barriers towards the pursuit of their significant future goals.

All these things are associated with absence of motivation forces and will further lead the person with depression towards feelings of withdrawal and isolation as other people see them as being too lazy.

These individuals will see and feel that everything is so much difficult to handle and will be often seeing that other people are punishing them. 

These people tend to think that there is nothing stopping them from facing hardships which will be continued till infinity and in their future they will only be facing more difficulties, frustration and deprivation.

The patients of depression are seen to be hopeless and pessimists and their wills seem to be paralysed. They will be of the view that their struggle and hard work will only lead them to further failures.

These people show reluctance ij commuting themselves towards their future goals and their level of activity gets lower.

Thinking that they do not have any control over the results of different situations and they will always wish to avoid those situations. 

The desires to commit suicide are being seen as extremely expressing the wishes to avoid the difficulties which seen not to be under control, unbearable and interminable.

Negative self-schemata

It was believed by Beck that a person who is suffering from depression, mostly from younger age experiences, holds negative schema about himself.

The rise of this schema can be from the earliest negative experiences, for example, bullying, abuse and criticism.

Beck was of the view that those individuals who had developed a negative schema about themselves are prone to interpreting the events to themselves with a sense of negativity involved in it which eventually leads them to be distorted cognitively.

The style of pessimistic explanation explains that the way of describing and reacting to different events by the depressed people show that these thoughts and reactions are a reflection of their schema on self image.

The pessimistic explanatory style includes putting blames on self for certain negative conditions which are not controllable for them or other people as well thinking that the events like these will be impacting their lives and their emotional well being significantly. 

 Measuring aspects of the triad

There are a lot of instruments which have been developed in a pursuit of measuring the negative cognitions in all three aspects of the triad.

The Beck Depression Inventory is considered a reliable and notorious questionnaire to score depression based on all three factors of cognitive triad. Beck hopelessness scale is another example for the measurement of thoughts related to the future and for measuring the views of the self Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is used.

Beckham and his colleagues developed the Cognitive Triad Inventory in an effort to measure all three aspects of Beck’s cognitive triad systematically.

The purpose of Cognitive Triad Inventory is to measure the correlation among the behavior of therapists in one clinical session to changes in the cognitive triad and styles of changes to the triad to changes in overall depressive mood.

This inventory has been used with kids and adults in Cognitive Triad Inventory-C which was developed by Kaslow and his colleagues. 

How Understanding Beck’s Cognitive Triad Helps You Challenge Your Cognitive Distortions

The aim of the cognitive triad of Aaron Beck during the therapy is to bring changes in thoughts which are triggered automatically, cognitive distortions and cognitive patterns.

As these modifications have started at this point most of the reactions based on behavior will begin to be dissolved because they will lose their credibility and will not be able to make any sense any longer to the person in question.

Also a person who has gone through the cognitive restructuring is now more capable of holding to his changes in behaviour without putting extra efforts. 

FAQs  about Cognitive Triad

Q1 .What is cognition? 

The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. 

Q2. What is a cognitive triad?

Cognitive triad is referred to as the negative triad.

It is a cognitive-therapeutic view of the three basic entities of the belief system of a person who is going through a depressive phase in his life. 

Q3. Who developed the Cognitive Triad?

The cognitive triad was developed by Aaron Beck in 1976. 

Q4. What are the parts of the cognitive triad?

There are three different parts of a cognitive triad. These are as follow:
Cognitive Bias
Negative Self-schemas
Negative Triad 

Q5. What are the three main goals in cognitive therapy?

Three main goals of a therapy are given below;

– To lessen the symptoms and give solutions to the problems. 

– To assist the patients in acquiring the skill set and coping mechanisms. 

– To assist the patients to change the primary cognitive structures in order to avoid any relapses. 


Beck’s Cognitive Triad and How It Can Help You Heal the Root of Depression

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