Filosofy on Friday -Selective abstraction

Selective Abstraction:

I have come to collect you for the final stage of our journey through the wonderland that is biased information processing (also known within cognitive-behavioral therapy as thinking errors). Of course, my praise for this fascinating territory is not biased.

I must apologise for turning up late this morning. Unfortunately our coach driver – who is actually dating a coach, which makes it confusing at times – had a bit of a falling out with his partner, so I did my best to comfort him. Obviously having to come back to the Heartbreak Hotel where you’ve been for the week has not helped matters. I just hope we can get you home without either the coach (the vehicle, not the person) or the driver breaking down.

So, whither Selective Abstraction? This is an information processing bias in which attention is drawn to a negative aspect of a person or situation. It is taking a small detail and making a judgement about the whole, rather than taking account of the bigger picture. For example, I might have decorated a room (and those who begin to know me will realise that is a very big might!) and be feeling pleased with myself, when I suddenly notice that a piece of wallpaper in a top corner is not quite right. Rather than being pleased with the overall job, I become upset about the small part that is not perfect.

Now, this bears some resemblance to Minimisation and Magnification which we discussed a couple of weeks ago. My understanding of the difference between the two is that in Selective Abstraction the negative aspect is a reasonable judgement about a small part (hence the name) of the whole, perhaps leading to some upset or disappointment, whereas in Minimisation and Magnification the significance of the negative aspect is amplified to an unreasonable degree. For example, the wallpaper malfunction means I will never be able to invite people into the room, and if anyone saw it they would judge me as incompetent and would run out of the room screaming, never to return (or was that another occasion?).

It is time to drop you off at the coach station. Thankfully our driver is in better spirits now, thanks to that bottle of Metaxa we gave him. On behalf of  Cognitive Behavioral Tours, I hope you have enjoyed the journey. We look forward to seeing you again at our reunion meeting next week, when we can share our memories and photos, and remind ourselves of all the places we have visited. We might even have some goody bags of salient souvenirs.



5 thoughts on “Filosofy on Friday -Selective abstraction

  1. Thank you for being such a keen follower! I’m pleased about the humour, it does tend to go up and down with daily stresses. I will try to summarise it all next week, so don’t worry about taking notes! Hope you have a lovely weekend.

  2. […] Selective abstraction (mental filter) – judging a whole situation on the basis of one detail taken out of context. It is important to realise that these thinking errors are activated in the moment-to-moment experiences of our daily lives. They represent our attempt to make sense of what is going on now. They flash on and off very rapidly so we may not be fully conscious of them at the time (hence the term negative automatic thoughts). They can be seen as unhelpful thinking habits, and like most habits they occur beyond conscious awareness. Our first indication that they have been activated will often be a strong negative emotional response. We find ourselves feeling very anxious, or sad, or angry, but may not be clear about how this happened. We tend to think that our first understanding of a situation and hence our reaction to it is the right one. For someone undergoing a course of cognitive-behavioral therapy, it is important that they can distinguish between ther thoughts and feelings, can identify their unhelpful thoughts by mentally stepping back from the moment, and then be able to correct any biases in their thinking. […]

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