Those who suffer childhood trauma, studies reveal, are far more likely than others, all else being equal, to develop a specific COGNITIVE BIAS which has been termed, rather informally, ‘The Jumping to Conclusions Bias’.
Those who develop this cognitive bias demonstrate a marked tendency to quickly make decisions based upon incomplete information in social situations, drawing negative inferences about others which may very well not be objectively warranted; this seems to be due to impulsive mental processing.
The ‘Jumping to Conclusions Bias’ at Its Extreme :
In extreme cases, this cognitive bias can be a symptom of psychosis. In relation to childhood trauma, psychosis is more likely to develop if there has been an intent to harm (eg as in the case of emotional abuse). In particular, maltreatment by adults and bullying by peers are both strongly correlated with the later development of psychosis (which, in one study investigating this link, was observed in children as young as twelve). However, this finding applies to both individuals who were traumatized in early and later childhood.
On a neurological level, research demonstrates that prolonged stress in childhood has an adverse effect upon brain development causing chronic overactivity in certain brain structures, including, for instance, the hypothalamus.
The’ Jumping to Conclusions Bias’ and Its Adverse Effect upon Social Interactions :
Studies have shown, as mentioned, that one important way that the’ Jumping to Conclusions Bias’ can affect the individual suffering from it is to interfere with social functioning. For example, as briefly alluded to above, those afflicted by this cognitive bias are more likely to rapidly form negative opinions and views of those they interact with. As has also been referred to above, if this cognitive bias becomes extreme it can meet the criteria to be categorized as a psychotic symptom (of schizophrenia, for example) and manifest itself as DELUSIONS OF PERSECUTION (in which others are automatically viewed as predominantly dangerous and threatening).
How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can Help :
Such cognitive biases as the ‘Jumping to Conclusions’ bias may be helped by the intervention of CBT, even in cases of schizophrenia, leading to more accurate social judgments, and, accordingly, improved social functioning.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
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