Personality is an influential and important aspect of psychology. Personality psychology asks the question what does it mean to be a person? And it is primarily concerned with human nature and individual differences (Pervin and John, 2001). Many psychologists have developed theories to understand and explain individual personality from different perspectives, including behavioural, psychodynamic, trait, social learning, biological, humanist, interactionist and cognitive (Friedman and Schustack, 1999).
Since the 1950s there has been, what is described as a cognitive revolution with the model of a person on sophisticated processors of information.
This was at odds with behavioural and social learning theories put forward by Skinner and Clark (Friedman and Schustack, 1999). George A. Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory (PCT) (Kelly, 1955), is a comprehensive theory of personality (Neimeyer, 1995) which has been applied to clinical situations more than it has been supported by empirical data (Fransella, 1995).
Yet recent developments in psychology under the general rubric of constructivism (Neimeyer, 1995), indicate that the classical Aristotelian division of experience into thought, feeling, and behaviour is undergoing reevaluation (Efran & Fauber, 1995).
In the light of these new developments, it may be both useful and necessary to provide more analytical support for PCT. This essay will demonstrate an understanding of George Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory and its position in relation to the major perspectives in personality psychology. It will seek to evaluate Personal Construct Theory in terms of three main criteria of evaluation.
Firstly comprehensiveness, which is its ability to account for and encompass a wide variety of data. Secondly parsimony, which is its ability to accounts for varied phenomena in a simple, economical and consistent way, and finally research relevance or relative utility, which is its ability to produce hypotheses which can be confirmed through systematic research.
Then, the paper will access how the theory has been used in practical settings, research, etc. , limitations of theory, and examine how theory can be applied in non-western society as well.
Personal Construct Theory. Although Kelly did not label his approach as cognitive it is generally accepted to be associated with the cognitive approach. This can be said as PCT emphasises the ways in which we perceive events, the ways we interpret these events in relation to already existing structures and the ways that we behave in relation to these interpretations (Pervin and John, 2001). A theory of personality, if it can be considered complete, should cover structure, process, growth and development, psychopathology and change. Kelly’s theory is dynamic and systemic; it comprises a Fundamental Postulate and eleven corollaries.
Four corollaries describe the process of construing (explaining the meaning of events to oneself), four describe the structure of the construct system (the organization of these explanations), and the remaining three describe the social context of construing. In addition, Kelly (1955) indicates three paradigms of change: the C-P-C Cycle (Circumspection-Preemption-Control Cycle), which describes how a particular construct is selected to interpret a situation; the five-phase Experience Cycle which describes processing an event; and the Creativity Cycle, which describes how constructs become more or less inclusive in response to novel events.
PCT is, above all, a theory of how individuals deal with change, hence its appeal when applied to clinical situations. Personal constructs are, in Kelly’s (1955) words, verbal or non-verbal “transparent patterns or templets” created by the individual, who “attempts to fit [them] over the realities of which the world is composed” (pp. 8-9). Experience, then, is the “successive construing of events [emphasis added], not simply the succession of events” (p. 94). The metaphor in which Kelly (1970) encapsulates construing (i. e. creating meaning by explaining a necessarily fragmentary and incomplete perception of events to oneself) is the person-as-scientist. Using this metaphor, constructions are hypotheses formulated in an attempt to predict, and so gain control over, the world. “Constructive alternatism” is the central assumption of Kelly’s (1955) theory: “all of our present interpretations about the universe are subject to revision or replacement” (p. 15). Construing is an active, ongoing process in which the individual consistently approximates a reality, which, because it can be known only in particulars, is never wholly known.
Although the presence of constructs is universal, their configuration is a unique aspect of personality structure (Kelly, 1955). According to Kelly’s (1955) principle of constructive alternatism, constructs not only explain events, they determine behaviour as well. As he states in his Fundamental Postulate, “A person’s processes are psychologically channelised by the ways in which he anticipates events” (p. 47). The 11 formal corollaries “may be loosely inferred” (Kelly, 1970, p. 1), from the Fundamental Postulate. Their explication by Kelly (1970), in his posthumously published “A Brief Introduction to Personal Construct Theory,” not only furnishes information about their logical relationship to each other, but also indicates the rationale for measures used in this study. According to Kelly (1970), the process of construing is paradoxical. The attempt on the part of the individual to live predictably is a quest for stability; yet constructions are constantly put to the test.
The person-as-scientist engages in the unremitting Experience Cycle: anticipation, investment, encounter, confirmation or disconfirmation of the construct, and constructive revision (Experience Corollary). Experience, then, for Kelly, is not defined in the usual sense as the number of events that overtake an individual, but rather has a specifically psychological meaning as the investment in anticipations, and revisions of constructions resulting from the consequences of those anticipations.
It is important to be aware, too, that change in the construct system may come as much from confirmation as from disconfirmation of these anticipations, for a person may be emboldened by success in anticipating as well as defeated by failure to do so (Kelly, 1970). Change may also come about, according to Kelly, because of the capacity of the person construing to generate new implications from novel events. In Kelly’s terminology, when this expansion of applicability is possible, the construct is said to be more “permeable” (Modulation Corollary; Kelly, 1970, p. 19).
In order to expand, the construct system must be able to supply a referent, which will acknowledge novelty (at the beginning of the five phase Experience Cycle given above) as well as one, which will admit revision (at the end of that cycle). In part, the simple availability of constructs defines the adaptability of the system. Because “a person anticipates events by construing their replications” (Construction Corollary, Kelly, 1970, p. 11), the same process that allows inferences to be made about the similarity of events must also serve to differentiate them from others.
In order to avoid the equally meaningless extremes of an overly blended homogeneity, or of an unrelated fragmentation, both poles of construing must be used. Although the choice may not be conscious, or even verbal (Bannister & Fransella, 1986), the individual is continually involved in a process of inclusion and exclusion of events from constructs. In construing an event, a person chooses the pole that will enhance the coherence (and so the utility) of the construct system (Choice Corollary, Kelly, 1970); this is the “emergent pole” in Kelly’s terminology.
Because constructs are unique and personal (Individuality Corollary, Kelly, 1970), valid conclusions about the meaning of an individual’s behaviour can only be made by evaluating that person’s construct system, that is, the experience that is construed at the end of the experience cycle, not simply the events that have transpired (Commonality Corollary, Kelly, 1970). In the Sociality Corollary, which Kelly (1970) stated was “probably the most far reaching of any [corollary]” (p. 2), he emphasized that any such evaluation had to be based on the individual’s formulation of his or her construct system; he distinguished between construing behaviour (formulating hypotheses based on inferences made by an observer) and construing constructions (formulating hypotheses derived from elicitations of the construct system of the individual). He regarded only the latter type of investigation as psychological. For Kelly, the organization of personal constructs is as important as their dynamic qualities discussed above.
In PCT, Kelly (1970) postulates a system of a finite number of bipolar constructs (Dichotomy Corollary) which have a range of applicability to novel events (Range Corollary), and which, though organized, may successively employ subsystems which are (or appear to be) logically incompatible (Fragmentation Corollary). This constructional inconsistency requires, however, that we be mindful again that it is the person using the constructs who defines consistency: What seems to be inconsistent to an observer may not be so for the person involved (Bannister & Fransella, 1986).
The Organization Corollary is particularly important because it attends to the hierarchy of systemic structure and provides a theoretical foundation for measures used in the present study. Kelly (1970) writes: “Each person characteristically evolves, for his convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs” (p. 12). This formulation not only affirms the unique characterological nature of constructs, but, because they are interrelated in a system, implies Chat exposition of their ordinal relationships can be entered into at any point.
Although inconsistencies and vacillations by an individual can reflect systemic disorder, Kelly speculates that constructions are arranged so that a person “can move from one to another in some orderly fashion” (p. 12) by assigning priorities or by inferring implicative relationships. Super ordinate constructs, that is, those, which include others, like all other constructs presumably, can also be arranged in a hierarchy. Super ordinate constructs governing a person’s maintenance processes are “core constructs” (Bannister & Fransella, 1986).
In addition to the experience cycle (anticipation, investment, encounter, confirmation or disconfirmation, and constructive revision), Kelly formulates two other cycles of construct change: the C-P-C cycle, and the Creativity cycle. The C-P-C cycle describes the process by which a person chooses a construct from the multiplicity of possible constructions of an event. Faced with choice, the person tentatively surveys a series of constructions (circumspection), then focuses on one to use (pre-emption), and finally applies it (control).
The process is not as rational or conscious as it sounds here; it may occur rapidly and preverbally. The prospect of change may also be so overwhelming that it is not completed (in which case the person is stuck), or may be repeated as a new series of constructs, which emerge from the initial choice or period of immobilization (Fransella, 1995). The Creativity Cycle describes the progressive loosening and tightening of constructs in problem solving.
In it the person begins with a construct that has variable predictive value (in the estimation of the individual) and concludes with a construct that is unvarying in predictability (again, in the estimation of the individual). Different aspects of what might be described as cognitive complexity would appear to be important variables in each of the three cycles of construct change. In the final phase of the Experience Cycle, for example, the term constructive revision implies continuing differentiation between constructs within the system.
A different aspect of cognitive complexity, one related to the array of constructs (the number available for scrutiny) is invoked by the circumspection phase of the C-P-C Cycle. And the loosening and tightening of constructs in the Creativity Cycle implies flexibility to move “within the slot” between emergent and implicit poles of constructs. When there is a discrepancy between anticipations and events, the construct system becomes disequilibriated, awareness of which is associated with negative emotional states (Mancuso & Adams-Webber, 1982).
Kelly (1955) defined several of these change-related negative emotional states in structural terms. “Anxiety, ” for example, was described as awareness of the inutility of the construct system; “threat” as awareness of the immanence of change in core constructs; “guilt,” as awareness of dislodgement from core structure, and “hostility, ” as an attempt to extort validation for a social prediction which has already been disconfirmed. Personal Construct Theory Evaluation and Analysis
Personal construct theory gives an account of how people experience the world and make sense of that experience (Fransella, 1995). The fundamental assumption of Kelly’s theory is that people approach the world as scientists thus like scientists, individuals form hypotheses make predictions and test these predictions (Phares and Chaplin, 1997). This basic idea in Kelly’s theory of personality is that we all interpret, try to understand and explain the world by employing personal constructs (Friedman and Schustack, 1999). It is these constructs which are the basis for the structure of Kelly’s Theory.
According to personal construct theory an individual uses the formation of constructs to chart a course of behaviours (Pervin and John, 2001). According to Kelly at least three elements are necessary to form a construct: two of these elements must be perceived as similar and the third element must be perceived as different from these two. The way in which two elements perceived to be similar forms what Kelly calls the similarity pole of the construct and the way in which they are contrasted with the third element forms the contrast pole of the construct.
Kelly stressed the importance of recognising that a construct is comprised of the similarity-contrast comparison and according to Kelly we are unable to understand the nature of the construct if it only uses either the similarity or the contrast pole (Pervin and John, 2001). According to Kelly the constructs used by a person are organised as part of a system and all constructs within the system have a range of convenience (all of the events for which the user would find the application of the construct useful) and a focus of convenience (particular events for which the user would find the application of the construct useful).
In order to understand a person it is necessary to know the constructs they use, they way in which there constructs function and the way in which they are organised in relation to each other. In order to achieve this Kelly developed the Role Construct Repertory Test (Rep Test), a tool mirroring the theory itself in that it illicits the actual constructs. Kelly claimed “it is appropriate to make a direct approach to the elicitation of role constructs…as they are of particular importance in psychological practice” (Kelly, 1955, p. 184).
The rep test has been useful in many fields from advertising to clinical psychology. Kelly’s theory considers growth and development, which is from what experiences personality differences are formed. He made reference to culture and development in infancy. Developmental research associated with personal construct theory has emphasised two kinds of change. One is the increase in complexity of construct theory with age and the other is the exploration of qualitative changes. The changes in the complexity of construct systems are of critical importance.
Several researchers have attended to the complexity of the personal construct system, apart from the constructs themselves, as an area worthy of investigation in its own right: to structure, rather than content. In 1966, for example, Bieri et al. defined cognitive complexity as “the capacity to construe social behaviour in a multidimensional way. A more cognitively complex person has available a more differentiated system of dimensions for perceiving others behaviour than does a less cognitively complex individual” (Pervin & John, 2001, 185).
In contemporary society Kelly’s theory has been very useful particularly in terms of its clinical applications. An important application is psychopathology. According to Kelly psychopathology is defined in terms of disordered functioning of a construct system. Kelly’s personal construct theory has been useful in that it has provided explanations for psychological disorders and possible courses of events in a person’s life (Kelly, 1955). A useful application of personal construct theory is the treatment of stuttering.
In personal construct terms, checking out the ways or alternatives of different speech open to you is part of the process of loosening constructs (Fransella, 1995). Kelly’s theory cannot be entirely applied both in Western and non-Western societies, since there are different nature and perceptions of self. Eastern psychology has conceptualised the self in ways that provide points of correspondence and divergence from Western views. In particular, the Eastern psychological worldview of Buddhism has regarded an examination of the self as essential for personal growth (Humphreys, 1985).
A cross-cultural comparison of the Buddhist perspective with the Western perspective can reveal culturally based assumptions about the nature of the self. Alternative definitions of the self from outside of Western culture may assist in the ongoing development of future models of the person within Western psychology. The mistake of taking culturally bound constructs for universal realities can be minimized by comparison and integration of concepts and themes across cultures. Personal construct theory has also been used to interpret pathological behaviour.
Anxiety threat and fear are described in relation to a persons construct system. This can be expanded to encompass suicide, aggression and hostility. Furthermore personal construct theory can be seen as being relevant to education in that one of the functions of education is to encourage the development of complex flexible adaptive construct systems. However in terms of education Kelly has only made a few statements and it is only recent research, which is starting to elaborate. Conclusion In conclusion it is evident that Kelly’s theory is a complete theory as it is comprehensive, parsimonious and has research relevance.
Kelly’s theory is comprehensive in that it manages to address issues from across the spectrum of personality. For example intellect in terms of the complexity of constructs, mental health in terms of the disordered function of constructs and education in terms of forming adaptive construct systems. Kelly’s theory is parsimonious in that it uses the same concept i. e. that of the construct system to account for these variations in phenomena in an economical and simple way. Psychotherapy, which often aims to increase self-esteem and self-efficacy, necessitates an understanding of the self.
This understanding of the self can be broadened by learning how non-Western cultures have addressed the self of the person. The self as a construct and the self in relation to perception and experience are themes that transcend the concerns of Western psychology. Finally personal construct theory has research relevance as shown through its use in the understanding of suicide and other areas such as speech and language development. A vital aspect of the overall usefulness of personal construct theory is the development of the Rep test, which can be adapted widely and is so closely related to the theory of personality.
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