Original Article

Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 270-279

First online:

Cognitive Specificity in Fear and Sad Affect: An Investigation of Emotional Reactivity and Recovery from Experimental Mood Induction

  • Adriana del Palacio-GonzálezAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of New Brunswick Email author 
  • , David A. ClarkAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of New Brunswick

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Beck’s (Cognitive therapy of the emotional disorders. New American Library, New York, 1976) cognitive content specificity hypothesis states that anxiety and depression can be differentiated by their thought content. Although Beck extended the hypothesis to normal emotion states, the generalizability of content specificity has not been demonstrated. In the current study 183 students were randomly assigned to view a fearful or sad movie clip, followed by an expressive writing task to induce mood recovery. Positive and negative cognitions and emotional reactivity were assessed before and after the movie clip, as well as after recovery. Only threat/danger cognitions demonstrated specificity after fear induction. Negative and coping loss/failure thoughts exhibited the same pattern of change with induction and recovery across both emotion conditions, thus showing non-specificity. The findings supported the cognitive specificity hypothesis for fear but not normal sad affect. Discussion of the generalizability of the cognitive content specificity hypothesis and its implication for cognitive theories of emotion are considered.


Emotional reactivity Cognitive content specificity Emotion Cognitive reactivity