The Overgeneralising Thinking Trap

Overgeneralising is one of the common cognitive errors that you may foul of that leads to a loss of perspective.

It is also one of the thinking traps that can get in the way of happiness and success.

Human beings are drawn to patterns and use previous experiences as predictors of how the world works and what might happen in the future.

For example, if you burn your hands on a hot saucepan, you will invariably use that experience to moderate your behaviour whenever you encounter a hot saucepan in the future.

However, those prone to overgeneralising tend to draw conclusions, deduce laws and create behavioural rules based on little or no evidence whatsoever, for example;

  • John gets stressed at the smallest things. Getting ready to drive to work on Monday morning, he turns the car ignition key, and the car won’t start. He thinks to himself, “Things like this always happen to me. Nothing ever goes right” and proceeds to have a very stressful time for the rest of the day.
  • Amy can become angry really easily. She’s travelling by train into town to meet her friend for dinner but is delayed by the passenger in front of her who can’t seem to find their money to pay their fare. Amy begins to think to herself “This is just typical! Why is everyone so ignorant”. Amy spends much of the next few hours tense and angry.


Overgeneralising Thinking man feeling despair

When you are overgeneralising, you tend to use words and phrases that are absolute in nature rather than accurate descriptions of events as highlighted above.

Consequently, this use of absolute statements narrows your perspective on problems and leads to emotional outcomes that have little to do with the reality of the situation.

Overgeneralising in Academic Research

When academics or scientists carry out research it is important that they are aware of overgeneralising when forming any conclusions.

It is very bad practice (as well as poor science) to form a general conclusion using a one-off example of any phenomenon.

If a scientist conducted an experiement and found that by drinking a pint of lager, 5 out of 10 students then sitting an exam perfomed better in that exam than those who did not, it would be an overgeneralisation to conclude that “alcohol improves academic perfomance”.

In order to determine if this proposition is viable, the experiment would need much better controls and a much larger sample size (say 250 students).

It is this lack of data and examination of the salient facts that leads to overgeneralising which can lead to emotions running wild.

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If you’d like to find out more about overgeneralising or recovering from any of your mental health problems then why not arrange a free initial consultation with us.

During this consultation we will discuss your particular issues and the different types of mental health counselling we offer (including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – CBT) without you having to commit to any counselling going forward.

The consultation lasts around 50 minutes and is a great opportunity to meet with either Paul or Joan and decide if you would like to proceed with any support.

Paul Lee BSc. MSc. Psych.

Psychologist Paul Lee in Clinic

You can contact Paul by e-mail on:

Tel: 07434 776125

Joan Lee D. Hyp. MIAEBP.

You can contact Joan by e-mail on:

Tel: 07434 776504