The Psychology of Personal Constructs

Don Bannister and Fay Fransella

Routledge, 1989.

This distinctive psychology was devised in the 1950s by George Kelly, and is expounded here by followers who have worked to develop and test the theory. Note the seriousness of the approach at the outset:

"The term 'theory' should be reserved for extensive and elaborated systems of ideas cast in terms of an integrated language. Users should not have to borrow, in every intellectual emergency, from elsewhere and conclude by assembling a ragbag of concepts which cannot be cross-related." (p.2)

Is a theory a dogma?

"In the case of a dogma we may cherish and defend it, in the case of a scientific theory we should cherish and attack it." (p.3)

Personal construct theory is reflexive: it is applicable to itself, unlike, say, learning theory.

Kelly opposed the old hydraulic analogies positing "forces" within a person which move her to do something:

"Suppose we begin by assuming that the fundamental thing about life is that it goes on. It isn't that something makes you go on; the going on is the thing itself."

The fundamental postulate of the theory is that a person's processes are psychologically channelised by the ways in which they anticipate events.

The organization corollary is that each person characteristically evolves, for their convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs.

The dichotomy corollary is that a person's construction system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs.

"A construct is not a 'thought' or a 'feeling'; it is a discrimination. It is part of the way you stand towards your world as a complete person. 'Emotion' is our experience of, or resistance to, change." (p.21)

Construct theory treats scientists as persons and persons as scientists, in the sense that,

"our behaviour is our continual experiment with life" (p.8).

"Thought-disordered schizophrenics ... are like scientists whose theories have been so often disproved that they have gone out of the theory-making business." (p.147)

The Psychology of Personal Constructs is presented as an alternative to current compartmentalized psychology as taught and practised. As things stand, the subject is splintered into various fields: developmental, cognitive, social, abnormal, linguistic, and others.

In addition we have competing rather than complementing schools or approaches. This isolationism is mapped out in Robins, Gosling & Craik - "Psychological Science at the Crossroads", American Scientist, July-Aug 1998.

Personal Construct Psychology web-site.



Paul Taylor 2001