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Pessimistic Attributional Style

Updated on September 20, 2011

When does pessimistic attributional style occur?

A pessimistic attributional style occurs when a person consistently blames the self as the primary cause of all or most of the negative things that happen in his or her life. This kind of style is believed to be strongly related (if not a cause) of depression. Some scenarios that reflect this kind of thinking are the following:

  1. Marie's boyfriend suddenly stopped texting her. He wouldn't even answer her calls. Marie then thinks that she must have done something wrong for her boyfriend to completely ignore her. While thinking about this, Marie then remembers that just two months ago, her boyfriend glanced at the new girl in campus. Then Marie thinks about the last they argued about her low grades. Marie and her boyfriend aims to go to college together, but now she's thinking that her boyfriend may have stopped communicating with her because she doesn't measure to his standards, that she is not smart enough nor beautiful enough for college. In reality, though, Marie's boyfriend actually adores her wit and inner charm. It just so happens that her boyfriend fell immediately past asleep after a very tiring basketball game.
  2. Glenn's daughter, Crystel, has been very distant. She's been like that since she celebrated her 13th birthday. Cystel doesn't seem to notice her father anymore. She has always been very busy with her academics, extra-curricular activities, her friends, and watching TV. Since the death of his wife, Glenn promised to himself that he will fill in his wife's role to her daughter, but Crystel doesn't seem to care anymore. Glenn thinks that his efforts are not enough, and that he's failing to keep his promise. Glenn then spends the entire day thinking about how he can spend more quality time with Crystel. In reality, however, Crystel is a blooming teenager. As an adolescent, she is more concerned about exploring the world on her own.

Who exhibits a pessimistic attributional style?

Pessimistic attributional style is common among depressed patients, whether unipolar or bipolar. Whenever negative life events occur among established depressed patients, these patients exhibit a pessimistic attributional style. Interestingly, when they show this kind of thinking, depressive and manic symptoms increase.

How to avoid a pessimistic attributional style?

Abramson, Seligman and Teasdale (1978) identifies the main characteristics of the pessimistic attributional style - internal, global and stable. A person with pessimistic attributional style blames the self (internal) for most or all of the negative life events (global) for most or all of the time (stable). In order to avoid this kind of thinking, one can gradually do so by following these steps: (1) Stop blaming the self always; (2) Start blaming others. This kind of modified thinking can also prevent depression, although it is important that one should strike a balance between internalizing and externalizing causes. The goal is not to totally eliminate depression but to learn to manage it when it becomes unhealthy.


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