Critique of Kelly

Most of Kelly's professional career was spent workmg with relatively normal, intelligent college students. Understandably, Ins theory seems most applicable to these people. He made no attempt to elucidate early childhood experiences (as did Freud) or maturity and old age (as did Erikson). To Kelly, people live solely hi the present, with one eye always on the future. This view, though somewhat optimistic, fails to account for developmental and cultural influences on personality.

How does Kelly's theory rate on the six criteria of a useful theory? First, personal construct theory receives a moderate to strong rating on the amount of research it has generated. The Rep test and the repertory grid have generated a sizable number of studies, especially in Great Britain, although these instruments are used less frequently by psychologists in the United States.

Despite the relative parsimony of Kelly's basic postulate and 11 supporting corollaries, the theory does not lend itself easily to either verification or falsification. Therefore, we rate personal construct theory low on falsifiability.

Third, does personal construct theory organize knowledge about human behavior? On this criterion, the theory must be rated low. Kelly's notion that our behavior is consistent with our current perceptions helps organize knowledge; but his avoidance of the problems of motivation, developmental influences, and cultural forces limits his theory's ability to give specific meanings to much of what is currently known about the complexity of personality.

We also rate the theory low as a guide to action. Kelly's ideas on psychotherapy are rather innovative and suggest to the practitioner some interesting techniques. Playing the role of a fictitious person, someone the client would like to know, is indeed an unusual and practical approach to therapy. Kelly relied heavily on common sense in this therapeutic practice, and what worked for him might not work for someone else. That disparity would be quite acceptable to Kelly, however, because he viewed therapy as a scientific experiment. The therapist is like a scientist, usmg imagination to test a variety of hypotheses: that is, to try out new techniques and to explore alternate ways of looking at things. Nevertheless, Kelly's theory offers few specific suggestions to parents, therapists, researchers, and others who are trying to understand human behavior.

Fifth, is the theory internally consistent, with a set of operationally defined terms? On the first part of this question, personal construct theory rates very high. Kelly was exceptionally careful in choosing terms and concepts to explam his fundamental postulate and the 11 corollaries. His language, although frequently difficult, is both elegant and precise. The Psychology of Personal Constructs (Kelly, 1955) contains more than 1,200 pages, but the entire theory is pieced together like a finely woven fabric. Kelly seemed to have constantly been aware of what he had already said and what he was going to say.

On the second half of this criterion, personal construct theory falls short, because like most theorists discussed hi this book, Kelly did not define his terms operationally. However, he was exemplary in writing comprehensive and exacthig definitions of nearly all terms used hi the basic postulate and supporting corollaries.

Finally, is the theory parsimonious? Despite the length of Kelly's two-volume book, the theory of personal constructs is exceptionally straightforward and economical. The basic theory is stated in one fundamental postulate and then elaborated by means of 11 corollaries. All other concepts and assumptions can be easily related to this relatively shnple structure.

Concept of Humanity

Kelly had an essentially optimistic view of human nature. He saw people as anticipating the future and living their lives in accordance with those anticipations. People are capable of changing their personal constructs at any time of life, but those changes are seldom easy. Kelly's modulation corollary suggests that constructs are permeable or resilient, meaning that new elements can be admitted. Not all people, however, have equally permeable constructs. Some accept new experiences and restructure their interpretations accordingly, whereas others possess concrete con-

Chapter 18 Kelly: Psychology of Personal Constructs 561

structs that are very difficult to alter. Nevertheless, Kelly was quite optimistic in his belief that therapeutic experiences can help people live more productive lives.

On the dimension of determinism versus free choice, Kelly's theory leans toward free choice. Within our own personal construct system, we are free to make a choice (Kelly, 1980). We choose between alternatives within a construct system that we ourselves have built. We make those choices on the basis of our anticipation of events. But more than that, we choose those alternatives that appear to offer us the greater opportunity for further elaboration of our anticipatory system. Kelly referred to this view as the elaborative choice; that is, in making present choices, we look ahead and pick the alternative that will increase our range of future choices.

Kelly adopted a teleological as opposed to a causal view of human personality. He repeatedly insisted that childhood events per se do not shape current personality. Our present construction of past experiences may have some influence on present behavior, but the influence of past events is quite limited. Personality is much more likely to be guided by our present anticipation of future events. Kelly's fundamental postulate—the one on which all corollaries and assumptions stand— is that all human activity is directed by the way that we anticipate events (Kelly, 1955). There can be no question, then, that Kelly's theory is essentially teleo-logical.

Kelly emphasized conscious processes more than unconscious ones. However, he did not stress conscious motivation because motivation plays no part in personal construct theory. Kelly speaks of levels of cognitive awareness. High levels of awareness refer to those psychological processes that are easily symbolized in words and can be accurately expressed to other people. Low-level processes are incompletely symbolized and are difficult or impossible to communicate.

Experiences can be at low levels of awareness for several reasons. First, some constructs are preverbal because they were formed before a person acquired meaningful language, and, hence, they are not capable of being symbolized even to oneself. Second, some experiences are at a low level of awareness because a person sees only similarities and fails to make meaningful contrasts. For example, a person may construe all people as trustworthy. However, the implicit pole of untrust-worthiness is denied. Because the person's superordinate construction system is rigid, he or she fails to adopt a realistic construct of trustworthy/untrustworthy and tends to see the actions of others as completely trustworthy. Third, some subordinate constructs may remain at a low level of awareness as superordinate constructs are changing. For instance, even after a person realizes that not everyone is trustworthy, the person may be reluctant to construe one particular individual as being untrustworthy. This hesitation means that a subordinate construct has not yet caught up to a superordinate one. Finally, because some events may lie outside a person's range of convenience, certain experiences do not become part of that person's construct system. For example, such automatic processes as heartbeat, blood circulation, eye blink, and digestion are ordinarily outside one's range of convenience; and one is usually not aware of them.

On the issue of biological versus social influences, Kelly was inclined more toward the social. His sociality corollary assumes that, to some extent, we are influenced by others and in turn have some impact on them. When we accurately construe the constructions of another person, we may play a role in a social process involving that other person. Kelly assumed that our interpretation of the construction systems of important other people (such as parents, spouse, and friends) may have some influence on our future constructions. Recall that, in fixed-role therapy, clients adopt the identity of a fictitious person; and by trying out that role in various social settings, they may experience some change in their personal constructs. However, the actions of others do not mold their behavior; rather, it is their interpretation of events that changes their behavior.

On the final dimension for a conception of humanity—uniqueness versus similarities— Kelly emphasized the uniqueness of personality. This emphasis, however, was tempered by his commonality corollary, which assumes that people from the same sociocultural background tend to have had some of the same kinds of experience and therefore construe events similarly. Nevertheless, Kelly held that our individual interpretations of events are crucial and that no two persons ever have precisely the same personal constructs.

Key Terms and Concepts

• Basic to Kelly's theory is the idea of constructive alteniativism, or the notion that our present interpretations are subject to change.

• Kelly's basic postulate assumes that all psychological processes are directed by the ways in which we anticipate events. Eleven corollaries derive from and elaborate this one fundamental postulate.

• The construction corollary assumes that people anticipate future events according to their interpretations of recurrent themes.

• The individuality corollary states that people have different experiences and therefore construe events in different ways.

• The organization corollary holds that people organize their personal constructs in a hierarchical system, with some constructs in superordinate positions and others subordinate to them. This organization allows people to minimize incompatible constructs.

• Kelly's dichotomy corollary presumes that all personal constructs are dichotomous; that is, people construe events in an either-or maimer.

• His choice corollary states that people choose the alternative in a dichotomized construct that they see as extending their range of future choices.

• The range corollary assumes that constructs are limited to a particular range of convenience; that is, they are not relevant to all situations.

• The experience corollary holds that people continually revise their personal constructs as the result of experience.

• The modulation corollary maintains that some new experiences do not lead to a revision of personal constructs because they are too concrete or impermeable.

• The fragmentation corollary recognizes that people's behavior is sometimes inconsistent because their construct system can readily admit incompatible elements.

• Kelly's commonality corollary states that, to the extent that we have had experiences similar to other people's experiences, our personal constructs tend to be similar to the construction systems of those people.

• The sociality corollary states that people are able to communicate with other people because they can construe other people's constructions. Not only do people observe the behavior of another person but they also hiterpret what that behavior means to that person.

• Kelly's fixed-role therapy calls for clients to act out predetermined roles continuously until their peripheral and core roles change as significant others begin reacting differently to them.

• The purpose of Kelly's Rep test is to discover ways in which people construe important people in then lives.

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