George Kelly Personal Construct Theory
I. Biography: 1905-1967 • George Kelly was born in a farming community near Wichita, Kansas. • He graduated with a degree in physics and mathematics from Park College in Missouri in 1926. • Kelly didn’t care for psychology. He was incredulous of Freud’s theory & unimpressed with learning theory as well.
Biography contd. • Kelly attended a learning class in college & was bored stiff. This is what he said of his experience: • “The most I could make of it was the S was what you had to have in order to account for the R, and the R was put there so the S would have something to account for,” he wrote.
Biography contd. • Kelly went to the University of Edinburgh to study education in 1929. While there he developed a growing interest in psychology. • In 1931 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. For 10 years he worked at Fort Hays Kansas State College, setting up clinics for dustbowl victims in the 1930s. • After WWII (He served in the Navy), Kelly spent a year at the University of Maryland & the next 20 years at Ohio State University.
George Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory • Kelly rejected the need for motivational concepts to explain human behavior. • He argued we are not pushed into action by environmental or unconscious forces. Kelly saw us as our own personal scientists. • People like scientists, generate & test hypotheses about the way the world works. • Because no 2 people see the world the same, no 2 people behave the same or have the same personality.
Personal Constructs • “Man looks at his world through transparent patterns of templates which he creates and then attempts to fit over the realities of which the world is composed. The fit is not always good. Yet without such patterns, the world appears to be such an undifferentiated homogeneity that man is unable to make any sense of it.” • George Kelly (1955)
Personal Constructs: • Are cognitive structures we use to interpret & predict events. • No 2 people use identical personal constructs, & no 2 people organize their constructs in an identical manner.
Personal constructs • According to Kelly, personal constructs are bipolar. • --That is, we classify relevant objects in an either/or fashion with each construct. • E.g., friendly-unfriendly, tall-short, intelligent-stupid, masculine-feminine, etc. • After applying the original black-and-white construct we can use other bipolar constructs to determine the extent of blackness or whiteness. • E.g., If you think a person is intelligent, you may then apply the construct, “academically intelligent or commonsense intelligent.” --provides a clearer picture!
Types of Constructs • Preemptive Construct – freezes its elements for membership exclusively in its own realm – “this is what it is…it cannot be anything else” • Constellatory Construct – permits its elements to belong to other realms concurrently, but fixes their realm membership – “They can be anything else at the same time, but they are always…”
Types of Constructs (cont.) • Propositional Construct – leaves its elements open to alternative constructions – very flexible • All types are useful, in their place
The Fundamental postulate & corollaries • Kelly began with one basic postulate upon which his entire theory was based, followed by eleven corollaries that elaborate on the theory. • The Fundamental Postulate: A person’s processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events. • Kelly argued that we are tied to our past experiences only in the sense that they have helped to develop our constructs & expectancies for the future.
The C-P-C Cycle • Circumspection – Preemption – Control Cycle • The process by which a person considers several constructs before deciding how to construe a novel or uncertain event • Circumspection – a person considers several constructs that could be used to interpret a situation – look at all sides of a question
The C-P-C Cycle (cont.) • Preemption – the person reduces the number of alternative constructs to ones most appropriate to the situation • Control – decides on a course of action and its accompanying behavior • This process may be repeated several times, depending on the results
Creating templates • Imagine you generate a hypothesis about what one of your instructors is like, based on observations. • Whenever you see this instructor you collect more information & compare it to your hypothesis. If it’s verified (the instructor asks the way you predict) you continue using it, otherwise you discard it. • We place the templates over the events we encounter. If they match, we retain the templates; if not, we modify them for a better prediction next time.
How do we go about anticipating events? • Kelly explains in his Construction Corollary that we anticipate events by “construing their replications.” • Without expectancies we would be overwhelmed with information which would leave us confused & unable to predict anything. • Therefore, we utilize past experiences to help us organize & anticipate future events.
Past experience—guides our predictions We use past experience to determine what is important to attend to & what we can ignore. If you knew if a person was quiet or talkative (talkative-quiet construct), you could predict their behavior in a given situation more accurately.
Kelly’s Organizational corollary: • We differ in the way we organize our constructs. • Some constructs are more important than others in interpreting our worlds. • Kelly calls these superordinate personal constructs & compares them to be less important subordinate constructs.
How can personal constructs be used to explain personality differences? • Kelly argued that differences in our behavior largely result from differences in the way people “construe the world.” • Suppose two people meet a new individual named Adam. • Person 1: uses friendly-unfriendly, fun loving-stuffy, and outgoing-shy constructs in forming his template for Adam’s behavior.
Person 2: uses refined-gross, sensitive-insensitive, & intelligent-stupid constructs. • After both individuals interact with Adam they walk away with different impressions of Adam. • Person 1 believes that Adam is a friendly, fun-loving & outgoing person, whereas Person 2 thinks that Adam is gross, insensitive, & stupid. • The same situation is interpreted differently.
What drives us according to Kelly? • “Anticipation is both the push & pull of the psychology of personal constructs.”(1955, p. 49). • “It is the future that tantalizes man, not the past.”
Why do two people who experience the same event, have different interpretations of that event? • 1. Each person may have a different set of constructs they use to evaluate a given event. • 2. Two people may use similar constructs on one pole, but not on the other. • E.g., You might use an outgoing-reserved construct, whereas you might use an outgoing-melancholy construct. Thus, what you see as reserved, I may see as melancholy.
A subordinate construct may be subsumed within one side of the superordinate construct, like this: Friendly-Unfriendly Outgoing-Quiet Here, people are judged as either friendly or unfriendly. If judged as friendly, they are then judged as either outgoing or quiet.
You might, however organize your constructs this way: Friendly-Unfriendly Outgoing-Quiet Outgoing-Quiet Here, whether you judge people as friendly or unfriendly, you can further judge them as either outgoing or quiet.
Psychological Problems: • Kelly thought that people have psychological problems because their construct systems are faulty, not because of the residue of past traumatic experiences. • Past experiences with an unloving parent or a tragic incident may help explain why people construe the world the way they do, but they are not the cause of the problems. • All disorders—result from faulty construct systems.
What is the route of all madness? • Anxiety! • Kelly argued that anxiety diminishes our capacity to predict future events. • When we are anxious we fail to encode stimuli important in making predictions, leaving us feeling confused & disoriented.
Why do our constructs sometimes fail us when we are trying to predict future events? Sometimes we develop impermeable constructs. An impermeable construct does not easily allow new elements into its existing range of convenience. This drastically limits your ability to anticipate events, which would make your world feel less predictable & more out of your control. Keep in mind construct systems may be incomplete.