Yohen et al.,at the University of Istanbul in Turkey (2017), carried out a study involving 1000 undergraduates to see if those who had suffered childhood trauma were more likely to experience automatic thoughts than those who had not. The data was collected using the CHILDHOOD TRAUMA QUESTIONNAIRE and the AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS QUESTIONNAIRE.
It was found that those who had experienced childhood trauma were significantly more likely to experience automatic thoughts than those who had not.
WHAT ARE AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS?
As the name suggests, automatic thoughts are a type of self-critical and negative inner monologue or self-talk that occurs spontaneously and out of the blue with no conscious intention on our part to initiate it. They arise as a response to a particular stimulus and are often irrational (cognitive distortions).
For example, suppose we text a friend and s/he does not immediately text back; despite no other evidence, we might have the automatic thought that this person hates us and wants nothing more to do with us (though the real reason is that s/he received the text whilst s/he was driving).
AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS, EMOTIONAL DISORDERS, AND PSYCHOTIC SYMPTOMS:
Other research has shown that if we experience high levels of automatic thoughts we are at higher risk of developing various emotional disorders including depression and anxiety. Furthermore, research by Octavia et al., 2019 involving 397 participants has shown that negative self-schemas have an impact on psychotic symptoms and may be the foundational mechanism that links childhood trauma to psychotic symptoms (e.g. delusions, ideas of reference, and paranoia).
DEALING WITH AUTOMATIC THOUGHTS WITH COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT):
Automatic Thoughts And Systems 1 And 2
Psychologists sometimes describe the process of rehoming as operating on two levels: SYSTEM 1 reasoning and SYSTEM 2 reasoning.
System 1 reasoning refers to reasoning that is fast and largely unconscious whereas system 2 reasoning is generally under conscious control, more considered, and more reflective.in nature.
However, there is no absolute distinction between these two types of reasoning, and the process of reasoning is more usefully understood as existing on a continuum with system one thinking at one extreme and system 2 thinking at the other. In order to overcome automatic thoughts, we need to replace system 1 thinking with system 2 thinking or at least apply system 2 thinking after system 1 thinking has occurred in order to challenge and correct erroneous system one type thoughts.
WHAT TYPE OF THINKER ARE YOU, SYSTEM 1 OR SYSTEM 2? TRY THIS SHORT, SIMPLE TEST
The following simple test was devised by Peter Watson in the 1960s and is called THE WATSON SELECTION TASK:
There are 4 cards, all have a letter on one side and a number on the other. The rule is:
IF A CARD HAS A LETTER ‘P’ ON ONE SIDE, IT HAS A NUMBER ‘3’ On the other side.
Four cards are laid out with either the letter side or the number side facing upwards. The four cards show:
S R 3 8
Question: WHICH CARD, OR CARDS, do you need to turn over to check whether the rule (see above) has been broken?
Work out your answer before reading on.
ANSWER: Most people choose 2 cards, namely the card with the ‘S’ facing up and the card with the ‘3’ facing up.
In fact, the correct answer is that not only do these 2 cards need to be turned over to check that the rule is correct but so does the card with the ‘8’ facing upwards because if it has an ‘S’ on the other side the rule has been violated. So, 3 cards need to be turned over to check the rule: the 1st, 3rd, and 4th above (the S, the 3, and the 8).
This test is intended to demonstrate the difference between intuitive (system 1) thinking and reflective (system 2) thinking as well as how our initial instinctive (system 1) thinking may be wrong and how reflective (system 2) thinking can correct the errors we are prone to when employing instinctive (system 1) thinking only.
The gold standard for the treatment of automatic thoughts is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which can help you recognize, challenge, and take control of your negative automatic thoughts in a way that undermines the power they have over us.
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