Beliefs and Attribution

Change processes that allow us to evolve as people hold themselves changing the way we process information (cognitive processes):

  1. Schemes (See our post about it)
  2. Beliefs
  3. Attribution Systems

In this post, we’ll talk about beliefs and very briefly, on attribution systems.


Beliefs are ideas, knowledge, value judgments, experiences that are taken by the person as absolute or related truths. They constitute something like a map that guides us and guides us in how we perceive the world and our behavior to find the satisfaction of our needs.

We can also define them dynamically as a state of mind in which a person thinks or seems likely that something is true or right without necessarily having empirical evidence to prove it, or that it is logical or rational nor the result of a process introspection.

Core beliefs

Core beliefs represent the most profound, fundamental and rigid level and form the overall basis of our identity and our interpretation of the world.

Nuclear or core beliefs are so deep interpretations that people often do not express or even themselves and have no clear awareness of them. These core beliefs developed from childhood consist of definitions, evaluations or interpretations of themselves, other people and their world that may have been installed in the mind by the experience of personal experiences or learning.

Intermediate beliefs

Intermediate beliefs are attitudes or values, rules and presumptions or assumptions, often unexpressed. Influence how you view the situation and the vision to turn influences the way we think, feel and behave. Intermediate beliefs are juxtaposed and involve each other, ie can assess a fact so exaggerated while elaborate hypotheses or assumptions to face it and we are guided by standards or rules. They are therefore often different ways of expressing the same content.

The rules may take the form of rules, duties or requirements to ourselves, to others or to the life or the world in general.

Automatic thoughts

Not arise from a deliberation or reasoning, but seem to spring up automatically and usually swift and brief. They are accepted as true, without being subjected to any kind of criticism. Constantly express the meanings attributed to events.

The person may not be too aware of these thoughts and only aware of the emotion that arises from them. They are specific to each situation and are considered to constitute the most superficial level of cognition.

When dysfunctional thoughts are subjected to rational reflection, emotions tend to change.

They are learned messages that are more accessible level of consciousness. When we observe our thoughts, this level is the easiest to identify. They represent what we say to each situation and generally have negative connotations. They may have verbal form ( “what I’m telling myself”) and / or visual (images).

Beliefs can have very different origins:

  • Cultural explanations (such popular traditions, social trends, …)
  • Learned from family members
  • Introduced by an authority
  • Imitation of leaders and people to (cultural, political, religious) around
  • Advertising messages
  • Idealization of the interpretation of a fact not justified rationally and attributed to faith, religious experience, magic, etc.
  • Myths (stories told as true stories)
  • Prejudices (often cultural heritage: judgment without sufficient / knowledge by printing or image that leaves us or judgments of others and that causes or may cause an intolerant, persistent and hostile attitude towards certain subjects or certain people)
  • Convictions: beliefs considered true though unproven or grounded in values or feelings

Cognitive Model

We wonder how our beliefs affect our behavior, how we think, how we interpret situations, the information we receive, the behavior of others, in how we make decisions and how we communicate, and interact with others.

The cognitive model postulated that emotions and behaviors of people are influenced by their perception of events, by the way they interpret the situation (Beck, J., 1995).

Cognitive Psychotherapy emphasizes that what people think and perceive about themselves, their world and the future is relevant and important and has direct effect on how they feel and act. (Dattilio and Padesky, 1990, Cognitive Therapy with Couples, p.6)

The ladder of inference

The ladder of inference by Argyris (1985) and then used by Senge (1994), is a tool that we can use to help shed light on the way we think, draw conclusions that lead to behaviors, and find out if the assumptions are successful or not, if they contain any distorting element and any logical error that we may incur unconsciously to perform a certain reasoning influenced by our belief system.

Belief system

The belief system is the set of beliefs accepted per person primarily during childhood, but then can be modified by the environment according to the solidification that the subject has with respect to its original beliefs and their willingness to alter them.

Attribution systems

Attribution systems are the way people explain our behavior and our successes and failures. These explanations have significant impact on our emotional states, self-esteem, feelings of competence and condition our future behavior.

This attribution is based on three dimensions (Weiner)

  • Stability
  • Locus of control or causality (internal factor that depends on the person or external factor).
  • Controllability: under control or out of control.

Emotional and motivational effects.

The psychological effects that different attributional styles the might describe as follows:

  • If success is attributed stable factors, increases the expectation of success.
  • If success is attributed unstable factors, reduces the expectation of future success.
  • The attribution to internal causes increases pride (if successful) or shame (in case of failure).
  • The attribution to external causes decreases pride (if successful) or shame (in case of failure).
  • The attribution to controllable factors increases motivation.
  • The attribution to factors beyond control decreases motivation.

We must be especially careful with our attributional style, correcting any distortions explanatory that we generate negative emotions and unnecessary discomfort.

As Mahatma Gandhi reminds us:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.


If you want to know a little bit more …


Beck, J.S. (2011) Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and beyond. Guilford Press. New York.

Dattilio, F.M. & Padesky, C.A. (1990) Cognitive Therapy with Couples: A Practitioner’s Guide. Sarasota, Florida. Professional Resource Press.

Piaget, J. (1954) The construction of reality in the child. New York: Ballantine Books.

Senge, P.M. et al. (1995) La Quinta disciplina en la práctica. Ediciones Granica. Barcelona.