A review and meta-analysis was conducted to evaluate the empirical evidence for the cognitive content-specificity hypothesis. The cognitive content-specificity hypothesis is a component of Aaron Beck's cognitive theory of emotional disorders (A.T. Beck, 1976) in which he postulates that affective states can be discriminated on the basis of unique cognitive content. The majority of investigations of this hypothesis have involved the assessment of self-reported cognitive features associated with anxious and depressive symptomatology. Across the 13 studies meeting the inclusion criteria, all effect sizes, even divergent relationships, were significantly different from zero indicating that depressive and anxious cognitive content shared significant variance with both depression and anxiety. More specific effect-size contrasts indicted that depressive cognitive content did display significant specificity, being more strongly related to depression than anxiety. Finally, the cognitive content measures were found to be highly correlated. These findings are generally inconsistent with the cognitive content-specificity hypothesis. Theoretical and psychometric recommendations are offered to address these issues in future cognitive content-specificity research.
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Beck, R., Perkins, T.S. Cognitive Content-Specificity for Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analysis. Cognitive Therapy and Research 25, 651–663 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1012911104891