Deutsch: Automatisches Denken / Español: Pensamiento Automático / Português: Pensamento Automático / Français: Pensée Automatique / Italian: Pensiero Automatico

Automatic Thinking in the psychology context refers to the spontaneous, quick, and often subconscious thoughts that arise in response to various stimuli. These thoughts are typically habitual, effortless, and based on past experiences and learned patterns, influencing perceptions, emotions, and behaviors without conscious deliberation.


Automatic Thinking involves mental processes that occur without deliberate, conscious effort. These thoughts can be beneficial, allowing individuals to quickly respond to familiar situations, but they can also be maladaptive, leading to cognitive distortions and negative emotional states. In cognitive psychology and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), understanding and modifying automatic thinking is crucial for addressing psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and stress.

Automatic thoughts are often linked to underlying core beliefs and schemas, which are deep-seated assumptions about oneself, others, and the world. These thoughts can be positive, neutral, or negative, but negative automatic thoughts are particularly significant in the context of mental health because they can perpetuate dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behavior.

Special: Types of Automatic Thoughts

Automatic thoughts can be categorized into several types, particularly focusing on cognitive distortions, which are irrational and biased ways of thinking:

  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: Viewing situations in black-and-white terms without recognizing middle ground.
  2. Overgeneralization: Drawing broad conclusions based on a single event.
  3. Mental Filtering: Focusing exclusively on the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring positive aspects.
  4. Disqualifying the Positive: Rejecting positive experiences by insisting they don’t count.
  5. Jumping to Conclusions: Making negative interpretations without supporting evidence, such as mind reading or fortune telling.
  6. Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating the importance of negative events and minimizing the importance of positive events.
  7. Emotional Reasoning: Assuming that negative emotions reflect the reality of a situation.
  8. Should Statements: Using "should” or "must” statements that set unrealistic standards.
  9. Labeling and Mislabeling: Assigning labels to oneself or others based on isolated incidents.
  10. Personalization: Blaming oneself for events outside of one’s control.

Application Areas

Automatic Thinking is relevant in various psychological and therapeutic contexts, including:

  1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Identifying and challenging automatic thoughts to modify dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors.
  2. Clinical Psychology: Understanding the role of automatic thoughts in mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
  3. Health Psychology: Addressing automatic thoughts to promote healthier behaviors and attitudes towards health and illness.
  4. Educational Psychology: Helping students recognize and modify negative automatic thoughts to improve academic performance and well-being.
  5. Organizational Psychology: Reducing workplace stress by addressing automatic thoughts related to job performance and interpersonal relationships.

Well-Known Examples

  1. Negative Self-Talk: Automatic thoughts such as "I'm not good enough" or "I always fail" that can contribute to low self-esteem and depression.
  2. Catastrophizing: Automatically assuming the worst-case scenario in any given situation, leading to heightened anxiety and stress.
  3. Perfectionism: Thoughts like "I must always be perfect" that can lead to chronic stress and burnout.
  4. Social Anxiety: Automatic thoughts such as "Everyone is judging me" that can cause avoidance of social situations and isolation.
  5. Health Anxiety: Automatic thoughts about having serious illnesses despite medical reassurance, contributing to health anxiety.

Treatment and Risks

Treatment Context:

  • Cognitive Restructuring: Techniques used in CBT to identify, challenge, and reframe negative automatic thoughts.
  • Mindfulness-Based Interventions: Practices that help individuals become aware of their automatic thoughts and reduce their reactivity to them.
  • Behavioral Activation: Encouraging activities that can counteract the effects of negative automatic thoughts by promoting positive experiences and behaviors.

Risks and Ethical Considerations:

  • Misidentification: Incorrectly identifying automatic thoughts can lead to ineffective or counterproductive therapeutic interventions.
  • Overemphasis on Cognition: Focusing too much on cognitive aspects may neglect other important factors such as emotions and behaviors.
  • Ethical Practice: Ensuring that interventions are culturally sensitive and appropriate for the individual’s specific context.

Examples of Sentences

  1. "In cognitive-behavioral therapy, clients learn to identify and challenge their automatic thoughts to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety."
  2. "Automatic thinking often leads to cognitive distortions that can negatively impact an individual’s emotional well-being."
  3. "Mindfulness practices can help individuals become more aware of their automatic thoughts and reduce their influence on behavior."

Similar Terms

  1. Cognitive Distortions
  2. Subconscious Thoughts
  3. Implicit Cognition
  4. Habitual Thinking
  5. Negative Self-Talk


Automatic Thinking in psychology refers to the quick, subconscious thoughts that arise in response to various stimuli. These thoughts can be beneficial in allowing rapid responses but can also lead to cognitive distortions and negative emotional states. Understanding and modifying automatic thinking is crucial in cognitive-behavioral therapy and other psychological interventions to improve mental health. By identifying and challenging these thoughts, individuals can develop healthier thinking patterns and enhance their overall well-being.