Irrational Beliefs, Cognitive Distortions, and Depressive Symptomatology in a College-Age Sample: A Mediational Analysis
Dysfunctional cognitions such as irrational beliefs (IBs) of Ellis' rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) model and cognitive distortions (CDs) or cognitive errors from Beck's cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) model are known to correlate with depressive symptomatology. However, most studies focus on one cognitive theoretical model in predicting psychopathology. The current study examined the relationship between both IBs and CDs in predicting depression. A college-age sample of 507 participants completed the Attitudes and Beliefs Scale-2, the Cognitive Distortions Scale, and the Beck Depression Inventory-II. Half of the sample showed minimal depression, while the remaining sample exhibited mild-moderate (37.4%) to severe (11.1%) depression symptomatology. Through regression analyses, the study aimed to examine whether IBs accounted for more of the variance in depression symptomatology after the effects of CDs were considered. Moreover, it tested whether CDs served as a moderator or mediator between IBs and depression. Each of Ellis' IBs (demandingness, awfulizing, self-downing, and low frustration tolerance) accounted for significantly more variance in depression after the variance of CDs was entered with the IB of self-downing explaining the most variance in depression severity. Moreover, while no moderation effect was found, CDs partially mediated the effect of IBs on depression. Both IBs and CDs contributed unique variance in predicting depression. Findings support the clinical notion that IBs and CDs are associated as well as highlight the clinical utility of both conceptualizations of dysfunctional cognitions in explaining depressive symptomatology. Clinicians might consider that each dysfunctional cognition might not be subject to change if not directly targeted. Rather than choosing to focus exclusively on IBs or CDs underlying negative automatic thoughts, psychotherapeutic efforts might benefit from identifying and challenging both types of dysfunctional cognitions.