Personal Construct Psychology
An attempt to order the facts of human experience
Personal construct psychology, developed by George Kelly and first published in 1955, is based on Kelly’s theory of personality which at root is built on the concept of "Man is a Scientist" – that is, we each seek to make sense of the world as we experience it by building and testing hypothesis about “how the world works”.
Expressed in more modern language, we all create our own inner map of reality (or construct) based on our own ethnic, national, social and religious backgrounds, and we interpret and experience life from the perspective of that map.
Thus, according to Kelly our constructs (inner map of reality) serves the dual purpose of representing our view of life and providing indicators or how we are like to interpret life as we continue to experience it.
Personal construct psychology also considers whether and how we might modify our constructs when faced with contradictory information – in other words establishing our ‘core constructs’ (core beliefs) that are more likely to be “non-negotiable”.
The main points of personal construct psychology can be summarised as follows:
- Our construct systems make our world more predictable
We use our construct systems to make the world easier to find our way around. They reflect our constant efforts to make sense of our world, hence Kelly’s “man as a scientist” analogy. Like the scientist, we observe, we draw conclusions about patterns of cause and effect, and we behave according to those conclusions.
- Our construct systems can grow and change
Our constructs are confirmed or challenged every moment we are conscious. Whether we adapt or immunise depends on a number of things: how open we are to new information, how much it matters to us to maintain our core belief .
- Our construct systems influence our expectations and perceptions
As our constructs reflect our past experience, they also influence our expectations and behaviour.
- Some constructs, and some aspects of our construct systems, are more important than others
Those constructs that represent our core values and concern our key relationships - are complex, quite firmly fixed, wide-ranging, and difficult to change; others, about things which don't matter so much, or about which we haven't much experience, are simpler, narrower, and thus carry less personal commitment.
- Your construct system is your truth as you understand and experience it - nobody else's
Our constructs represent the truth as we understand it. Construct systems are not objective measures of “truth”.
When we meet someone whose construct system is different from our own - especially if we don't like it, or think it's “wrong” – we might try confronting them with opposing perspectives and evidence, and then we get frustrated when we see them immunising their constructs instead of adapting them. (This is the basic premise of Kegan and Lahey’s work in “Immunity to Change”).
- Construct systems are not always internally consistent
We can and do live with a degree of internal inconsistency within our construct systems - but if the distortions of judgement become too costly or inappropriate we are likely to suffer some form of personal distress.
- The extent to which one person can understand another's construct system is a measure of that person's empathy
We do not have to have the same construct system as another person in order to understand them; but we do need to be able to infer the other person's constructs (or as someone once said "walk a mile in his/her shoes").
George Kelly developed a technique known as “The Repertory Grid” for identifying the ways that a person construes (interprets/ gives meaning to) his or her experience and for providing information from which inferences about that persons’ personality can be made.
The link below will take you to an excellent and comprehensive resource on all aspects of personal construct psychology:
A summary of Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology Theory - the basis of the Repertory Grid interview
Self Improvement Advice
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