The Abcde Model to Change a Person’s Explanatory Style

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“Pessimistic labels lead to passivity, whereas optimistic ones lead to attempts to change”. Seligman in 1968 came with the concept of ‘learned helplessness’. Seligman along with Steve Maier and Bruce Overmier were studying dogs. They discover that the dogs who experienced painful electric shocks could not modify their actions and, in the end, stopped trying. Even though the dogs could have easily escaped, they passively accepted the shocks. But, it was later found out that not all dogs became helpless. One in three never gave up, no matter what the researchers did, which means only two out of them experienced learned helplessness when they were confronted with a situation they had no control over. The difference between the one out of the three that didn’t experience learned helplessness and the two out of that three that did turn out to be something called Explanatory style.

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Explanatory style is a person’s way of explaining about events that happen to them. It is a habit of thought learned in childhood/adolescence. Seligman (1990) says “your explanatory style stems directly from your way of your place in the world – whether you think you are valuable and deserving or worthless and helpless”.

There are 3 dimensions to your explanatory style:

  • Permanence (is about time): temporary vs permanent,
  • Pervasiveness (is about space); specific vs universal,
  • Personalisation; internal vs external.

By identifying your Explanatory style, you can see if it is more pessimistic or optimistic. The ABCDE model adapted by Martin Seligman from Albert Ellis’s ABC model helps in changing a person’s explanatory style from pessimism to optimism.

Adversity => Belief => Consequences=> Disputation=> Energisation

People tend to blame ‘A’ for ‘C’, however it is actually ‘B’ that make us feel the way we do. Once they see this, they dispute their perception and disputing their beliefs can help see a situation in a new light and change the way they feel. After the interview held with each participant, The ABCDE model was discussed with each of them and they were taught how to use it in their daily lives. It took a bit of time for them to familiarize themselves with it but eventually they were able to learn to quickly relate the model with their life adverse situations. The idea is that your thoughts can generate your feeling. So, if you take active control of your thoughts, you are in turn taking active control of your emotionsю

Below is a sample of The ABCDE model filled by one of the participants.

Adversity - “I gave an exam and I couldn't meet the cut-off of the exam”.

Belief - “I have become lazy, indiscipline and so unfocused. I am not serious about future and career. I was such a hardworking student but after coming to Delhi all my qualities have deteriorated. I can't even compete and maybe I am not capable enough to give such exams”.

Consequences - “I felt depressed. Demotivated and felt like I couldn’t do anything in life. If I can't even pass such an easy exam. I began comparing myself and started underestimating myself, my abilities and capabilities”.

Disputation - “I told myself that I have been good in past, so I can be better in future. Maybe God has planned something better for me, that's why I couldn’t clear the exam. This is like an opportunity to showcase my talent and prove myself again”.

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Energisation - “I became more focused and planned my strategy for the next time. It was a lesson for me to not repeat the same mistake which I had done in the past. And every day I reminded myself about my goals and became even more consistent”.

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The ABCDE Model to Change a Person’s Explanatory Style. (2020, April 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“The ABCDE Model to Change a Person’s Explanatory Style.” GradesFixer, 02 Apr. 2020,
The ABCDE Model to Change a Person’s Explanatory Style. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2023].
The ABCDE Model to Change a Person’s Explanatory Style [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Apr 02 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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