Personal Constructs

Kelly's philosophy assumes that people's interpretation of a unified ever-changing world constitutes then reality. In the chapter opener, we introduced Arlene, the student with the broken-down automobile. Arlene's perception of her transportation problem was not a static one. As she talked to a mechanic, a used-car dealer, a new-car dealer, a banker, her parents, and others, she was constantly changing her interpretation of reality, hi similar fashion, all people continually create their own view of the world. Some people are quite inflexible and seldom change their way of seeing things. They cling to their view of reality even as the real world changes. For example, people with anorexia nervosa continue to see themselves as fat while their weight continues to drop to a life-threatening level. Some people construe a world that is substantially different from the world of other people. For example, psychotic patients in mental hospitals may talk to people whom no one else can see. Kelly (1963) would insist that these people, along with everyone else, are looking at then world through "transparent patterns or templates" that they have created hi order to cope with the worlds realities. Although these patterns or templates do not always fit accurately, they are the means by winch people make sense out of the world. Kelly referred to these patterns as personal constructs:

They are ways of construing the world. They are what enables [people], and lower animals too, to chart a course of behavior, explicitly formulated or implicitly acted out, verbally expressed or utterly inarticulate, consistent with other courses of behavior or inconsistent with them, intellectually reasoned or vegetatively sensed. (P- 9)

A personal construct is ones way of seehig how things (or people) are alike and yet different from other things (or people). For example, you may see how Ashly and Brenda are alike and how they are different from Carol. The comparison and the contrast must occur within the same context. For example, to say that Ashly and Brenda are attractive and Carol is religious would not constitute a personal construct, because attractiveness is one dimension and religiosity is another. A construct would be formed if you see that Ashly and Brenda are attractive and Carol is unattractive, or if you view Ashly and Brenda as hreligious and Carol as religious. Both the comparison and the contrast are essential.

Whether they are clearly perceived or dimly felt, personal constructs shape an individuals behavior. As an example, consider Arlene with her broken-down car. After her old car stopped running, her personal constructs shaped her subsequent course of action, but not all her constructs were clearly defined. For instance, she may have decided to buy a late-model automobile because she hiterpreted the car dealer's friendliness and persuasiveness as meaning that the car was reliable. Arlene's personal constructs may be accurate or inaccurate, but hi either case, they are her means of predicthig and controlling her environment.

Arlene tried to increase the accuracy of her predictions (that the car would provide reliable, economical, and comfortable transportation) by increasing her store of information. She researched her purchase, asked others' opinions, tested the car, and had it checked by a mechanic. In much the same maimer, all people attempt to validate their constructs. They look for better-fitting templates and thus try to hnprove their personal constructs. However, personal improvement is not inevitable, because the investment people make hi their established constructs blocks the path of forward development. The world is constantly changing, so what is accurate at one thne may not be accurate at another. The reliable blue bicycle Arlene rode during childhood should not mislead her to construe that all blue vehicles are reliable.

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