George Alexander Kelly

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Kelly, George Alexander





George Alexander Kelly (1905–1967) spent the early years of his career focused on the issue of providing clinical psychologists for schools. He founded and developed the traveling psychological clinic while teaching at the Fort Hays campus of Kansas State College. During the years of the Depression up to the time the United States joined World War II, Kelly and his team—many of them graduate students who learned their trade through this experience—traveled all over Kansas treating teachers, parents, and children. His work at the time included the practical issues of clinical diagnosis, clinical psychology for school settings, and the use of diagnostic testing, in addition to other aspects of dealing with the developmental concerns of students, teachers, and parents. His discoveries during these years formed the basis of his psychology of personal constructs.

Kelly noted an important similarity among the people he treated in the public schools of Kansas. He determined that the problems teachers identified in students were often reflective of themselves more than the personality of the students. The next step that followed for him was a simple one. He concluded that there was no objectivity, or absolute truth, in determining the reality of a situation—specifically, that the meaning of all that happens in a person's life emerges from the way in which that person interprets it. This idea of individual interpretation represented a view known as "constructive alternativism." He argued that the individual acted as a scientist. Kelly contended that a person interpreted a situation or environment a particular way, and thus acted deliberately with those interpretations in mind. Also, verbal or nonverbal modifications of an action were usually a result of whatever outcome the person had come to expect through experience. Thus, the person used his or her interpretation as scientific hypothesis, with the resulting actions similar to scientific research and experiments.

By the 1950s when Kelly published his two-volume work, behaviorists and professionals using the psychodynamic approaches in psychology dominated the field. Kelly's approach was regarded as radical. Behaviorists believed that an individual was virtually a passive entity. How a person turned out was due to the environmental forces or influences on the person, rather than the actions a person decided to take. The psychodynamic theory also involved interpreting the individual as passive—but as one who reacted to internal unconscious motivations rather than outer influences. According to Fay Fransella and Robert A. Neimeyer writing about Kelly in the International Handbook of Personal Construct Psychology in 2003, "For Kelly, we are forms of motion and we propel ourselves—no one or no thing does it 'to' us."

Kelly practiced and published in the midst of others who were also committed to unlocking the mysteries of human behavior and development. Kelly provided a respectful but determined opposition to the psychology his contemporaries espoused. His research had a philosophical approach, and he was influenced by philosophers such as John Dewey, a pragmatist and religious thinker; as well as Alfred Korzybski, a linguistic philosopher. Others who helped form Kelly's psychology included Hans Vaihinger, whose philosophy was one of as if in his own version of constructive alternativism; and Jakob Moreno, whose use of psychodrama and its role-playing approach held a place of prominence in personal construct therapy.

Personal construct psychology as first presented by Kelly, and as it has developed over the 50 years since his work was published, has been seen as a complete psychology, not simply a theory. At its basis is the repertory grid, which provides a basic table for an individual to answer questions and analyze what they reveal about that person's cognitive processes. In essence, this method of psychological testing is one that requires the use of the rational mind. Kelly's psychology provides tools to a rational human being for planning future actions, based on knowledge of past and present actions.


George Alexander Kelly was born outside of Perth, Kansas, on April 28, 1905. He was the only child of a Presbyterian minister, Theodore Vincent Kelly, and Elfreda Merriam Kelly—who was, according to Fay Fransella quoting Kelly in a biographical sketch for the International Handbook of Personal Construct Psychology, "the daughter of a Nova Scotian captain of a sailing ship who was driven off the North Atlantic Trade routes by the arrival of steamships." His grandfather had gone then to trade in the Caribbean, settling in Barbados where Kelly's mother was born. Fransella noted that it was "interesting that the 'spirit of adventure' symbolized by this maternal grandfather," later "seeped into the spirit of Kelly's later psychological theorizing."


  • The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Two volumes. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1955.
  • "The Theory and Technique of Assessment." Annual Review of Psychology. 9 (1958): 323–52.
  • "Suicide: The Personal Construct Point of View," edited by N. L. Farberow and E. S. Schneidman. The Cry for Help. McGraw-Hill, 1961.
  • "Europe's Matrix of Decision," edited by M. R. Jones. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. University of Nebraska Press, 1962.
  • "Nonparametric factor analysis of personality theories." Journal of Individual Psychology 19 (1963): 115–47.
  • "The language of hypothesis: Man's psychological instrument." Journal of Individual Psychology 20 (1964): 137–52.
  • "The strategy of psychological research." Bulletin of the BPS 18 (1965): 1–15.
  • Clinical Psychology and Personality: Selected Papers of George Kelly (published posthumously), edited by B. A. Maher. Wiley, 1969.
  • "A brief introduction to personal construct theory." Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory. (published posthumously) Bannister, D., Academic Press, 1970.
  • "Behavior is an experiment." Bannister, D. Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory. (published posthumously) Academic Press, 1970.
  • "The psychology of the unknown." Bannister, D. New Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory. (published posthumously) Academic Press, 1977.

Kelly's father left the ministry when his son was very young in order to pursue a life of farming. In 1909 the family moved by covered wagon to eastern Colorado to stake a claim on what would be the last of the free land offered to settlers. When the scarcity of water made farming there too difficult, the family returned to Kansas. Both of his parents took part in Kelly's education. The evidence suggested that until he went away to boarding school in Wichita at the age of 13, he had virtually no formal schooling outside of his home. He stayed in Wichita from late 1918 until 1921, when he entered Friends' University academy and took college and academy courses. Kelly enjoyed telling people that he had no high school diploma, having gone to college early. While still at Friends', Kelly was awarded first place in the Peace Oratorical Contest held there in 1924. His speech was titled "The Sincere Motive" and was on the subject of war. He left Friends' and in 1926 completed his bachelor's degree from Parks College in Missouri, where he majored in physics and mathematics. These two subjects would guide his direction and help him formulate his psychology. Any disadvantage he might have had as a student was due to the fact that he was interested in everything but had no specific career plans for the future. He had given some thought to a career in engineering, but changed his mind.

After Parks, he returned to Kansas, where he studied educational psychology at the University of Kansas for a master's degree. He did not receive that degree until 1928, after he took a few more detours for a year. In 1927 with his thesis not completed, Kelly moved to Minneapolis with the intention of enrolling in the University of Minnesota. While there he taught various classes, such as public speaking to labor organizers and bankers through the American Bankers Association, and citizenship classes to immigrants. By the winter of that year he realized he could not afford the school's fees, and left to take a job teaching psychology and speech, and coaching drama at Sheldon Junior college in Sheldon, Iowa. Kelly met his future wife, Gladys Thompson, while there. Perhaps without realizing what it meant for his future in psychology, he also began to build his base of using drama in psychotherapy, or what would commonly come to be known as role-playing. He was able to complete his master's thesis—a study of the leisure-time activities of workers—and received his degree from Kansas in 1928. In addition to the courses necessary for completion of this degree, Kelly also studied labor relations and sociology as his minors. Following a few other short-term jobs, Kelly received a fellowship for an educational exchange in order to attend the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. By 1930 he completed a bachelor of education degree there with a graduating thesis that addressed the issue of predicting teaching success. Kelly knew by then that he wanted to pursue a doctorate in psychology. While at the University of Iowa where he studied under Carl Seashore, Kelly focused his dissertation work on the common factors in reading and speech disabilities. In just one year, Kelly had a Ph.D. America was in the midst of the Depression years as he finally left school in search of a job.

In an essay he wrote in 1963, "Autobiography of a Theory," Kelly recounted his very first course in psychology as a student. Kelly noted that:

In the very first course in psychology that I took I sat in the back row of a very large class, tilted my chair against the wall, made myself as comfortable as possible, and kept one ear cocked for anything interesting that might turn up. One day the professor, a very nice person who seemed to be trying hard to convince himself that psychology was something to be taken seriously, turned to the blackboard and wrote an 'S,' an arrow, and an 'R.' Thereupon I straightened up my chair and listened, thinking to myself that now, after two or three weeks of preliminaries, we might be getting to the meat of the matter.

Kelly never did find out what this exercise meant, but went on in the same essay to say that:

Out of all this I have gradually developed the notion that psychology is pretty much confined to the paradigms it employs and, while you can take off in a great many directions and travel a considerable distance in any of them—as indeed we have with stimulus-response psychology—there is no harm in consorting with a strange paradigm now and then. Indeed the notion has occurred to me that psychology may best be regarded as a collection of paradigms wooed by exphysicists, ex-physiologists, and ex-preachers, as well as a lot of other intellectual renegades. Even more recently it has struck me that this is the nature of man; he is an inveterate collector of paradigms.

Even Kelly found it interesting that of all the years of his education, and through his various degrees, that his Ph.D. would be in psychology, a subject in which he majored for a total of nine months. He said that he would not recommend such a plan for his students.

In his profession

Kelly's first job that fall of 1931 was at Fort Hays Kansas State College. With his new bride, he traveled into the heart of what would become forever known as the "Dust Bowl," almost a euphemism for the hardship of the Depression itself. In Kelly's own words:

It did not take many weeks in those depression times to reach the decision to pursue something more humanitarian than physiological psychology. Too many young people were wondering what, if anything, to do with their lives. The schools, only recently established at a secondary level in that part of the state, were only barely functioning as educational institutions, and there were many who thought public education should be abandoned altogether. It was a time for a teacher to talk of courage and adventure in the midst of despair. It was not a time for the 'S,' the arrow, and the 'R'!

He would stay at Fort Hays for 12 years, until the beginning of World War II. As Fransella noted, "Faced with a sea of human suffering aggravated by bank foreclosures and economic hardship," Kelly could no longer find any purpose except for the practical. He decided to put his efforts toward school children, whom he saw as needing his services. To that purpose he founded a clinic for diagnosing psychological problems and offering remedial services. The clinic traveled throughout rural western Kansas. Kelly headed a group of undergraduate and graduate students—the only staff. Even in the economically challenged days of the Depression, the state of Kansas decided the clinic was so worthwhile that the state eventually took over the role of sole funding source. When he published The Psychology of Personal Constructs, and throughout the rest of his career, Kelly would reiterate the fact that it was those early days of work with his traveling clinic that set the groundwork for the development of his new psychology.

Kelly took something very simple from his earliest observations during his days with the clinic. He decided that the way that people deal with the issues of living has nothing to do with how they partake of any absolute truth or any objective way that all people see themselves or others. It was what they brought themselves to the interpretation of what they saw that determined an outcome, for instance. At first Kelly had turned to Freud in order to help him solve the students' problems. He was virtually alone in a field that he saw as crucial to the future of the discipline and more certainly, as crucial to the lives of the children he was attempting to treat. Kelly would eventually reject Freud and his notion that only the therapist would bring positive change to the client. Kelly believed that the client could not improve unless clients determined their own interpretations and make decisions based on those. Again, his work seemed to continue to confirm for him that individuals were masters of their own fate.

Kelly wrote his first textbook in 1932, titled Understanding Psychology, though it remained unpublished. Another book he wrote with W. G. Warnock, titled Inductive Trigonometry in 1935, remained in manuscript draft form. Although it would be another 20 years before he would publish his first major work, Kelly did publish a series of six papers. Their focus was the practical work of clinical diagnosis, the operation of clinical psychology in school settings, and the use of diagnostic testing and similar matters for school children. Kelly's attention to the practical problems in clinical settings remained an interest throughout his career, in addition to his renowned work on personality theory.

During the last couple of years before America entered World War II, Kelly was in charge of a flight-training program at Fort Hays for local civilian pilots. In 1943 he was commissioned in the Naval Reserve and spent some of the war years serving as a Navy aviation psychologist. Kelly moved to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery of the Navy in Washington, where he was involved in research on instrument panel design and other problems of applied and clinical psychology. In 1945 he was appointed Associate Professor at the University of Maryland. In 1946, Kelly accepted a position at Ohio State University as Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology. It was the year after another famed psychologist, Carl Rogers, left Ohio State.

Kelly devoted his first several years at Ohio State to organizing the graduate program in clinical psychology. That work paid off for the school, which quickly gained recognition as one of the top-ranking graduate training programs in the United States. According to the biographical notes of Brendan Maher in his introduction to Clinical Psychology and Personality, The Selected Papers of George Kelly, Kelly "managed to achieve an atmosphere in which clinical interest and perceptiveness were combined with firm commitment to the methods and standards of science in a blend that was, unfortunately, rarely found in other similar programs."

Publication brings fame All this work was prelude to the events of 1955, when Kelly published what would be recognized as his contribution to the psychology of personality—the book The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Kelly's book, based on a substantial body of research and clinical expertise, brought him immediately to the attention of professionals and scholars throughout the United States and the world. The invitations to teach and give guest lectures were numerous. Included among the many universities where Kelly held visiting appointments were the University of Chicago, University of Nebraska, University of Southern California, Northwestern, Brigham Young, Stanford, and the University of New Hampshire. He lectured throughout the United States and around the world in Europe, the Soviet Union, South America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

Kelly not only brought fame to himself, but also to his work. His book provoked extensive research by other professionals into his theories—both the implications of them, and possible applications. He played a key role with the American Psychological Association (APA) as the field of clinical psychology reached a new and important status. Among his many leadership positions, Kelly served the APA in the elected position of President of its Clinical and Consulting Division. In 1965, the year he left Ohio State to accept the Riklis Chair of Behavioral Science at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, Kelly was honored by the APA with its Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Science and Profession of Clinical Psychology. He accepted his position at Brandeis through the invitation of Abraham Maslow, another distinguished psychologist. Kelly was holding the chair when he died on March 6, 1967, less than two months before his sixty-second birthday.

Personal life

Kelly married Gladys Thompson in 1931, who remained devoted to him throughout many moves. The year following his death, Kelly's wife assisted in locating many of his manuscripts and encouraged their publication. The couple had two children: a daughter, Jacqueline; and a son, Joseph Vincent. At the time of his death, his daughter was married to George Edward Sharples. In his introduction to his book, Maher closed his biography of Kelly noting that, "More than most psychologists, perhaps, George Kelly's papers are themselves an autobiography of the man. In them, the reader will find the warmth, humor, and tolerance that characterized him so well to those who knew him best."

Perhaps Kelly was best characterized by his own words, his reflections on the human condition. Kelly recalled his experience in western Kansas during the Depression and how his psychology emerged.

So I listened to people in trouble and I tried to help them figure out what they could do about it. None of the things I had studied or pursued in the years before seemed to have any very specific bearing on what confronted us, though at one time or another through this period I probably attempted to make some use of everything I knew.

His approach to life was his approach to his work, and to helping people in a simple, straightforward manner.

In western Kansas when a person came to me, we were pretty much stuck with each other. Our job was to figure out what the two of us could do ourselves. Now that I look back on it this was an open invitation to approach psychology from an unconventional angle. And that is what I am afraid I did.

Kelly died unexpectedly while in the process of completing a new book, in addition to organizing the many papers he had delivered throughout the last decade of his career.


Kelly developed not merely a theory of psychology. He developed an entire psychology based on 20 years of practical clinical experience and the theories he derived from that experience. As he offered in his preface for the book, the structure by which it was organized was essentially the manifestation of the psychology itself. Kelly knew that he not only wanted to let the reader or student know the how of the procedures handling a clinician's client base. He would have to present the why behind the procedures and techniques. That motivation was the beginning of his written works. Explaining the process through which the book was produced, Kelly also noted what others would quickly see upon reading his work that, "In the years of relatively isolated clinical practice we had wandered far off the beaten paths of psychology, much farther than we had ever suspected." Over the period of the three years that it took him to write the book, Kelly presented first drafts of the manuscript—from one page to as many as 30 pages at a time, as they were completed—in a weekly Thursday night seminar and lecture open to all interested. "That either the writer or the manuscript survived at all is entirely due to the psychological perceptiveness of colleagues who, somehow, always found a way to strike a gentle balance between pity and realism," Kelly recalled.

The theory of constructive alternativism provided Kelly with a solid base for his new psychology, as well as an important point of reference in his discussion of psychotherapeutic techniques. This personality theory began with two basic premises: 1) that an understanding of individual humans is better when derived from a "perspective of the centuries," as Kelly wrote, than "in the flicker of passing moments"; and, 2) that individuals see the context of life in a very personal manner, by the way events and the role in which they find themselves are played out. In other words, the theory involves individuals examining the way in which they interpret and react to their environment.

Kelly wrote that people view their worlds "through transparent patterns or templets," which they themselves create, and utilize them in order to "fit over the realities of which the world is composed." According to him, these patterns were not always a perfect fit, but still helpful. He submitted the term constructs to be used for such patterns. These patterns are enlarged or improved as a person matures. They become pieces of a larger construction system through which people live, communicate, and interpret the world around them. These constructs might be explained in more detail by the manner in which an individual uses them. Kelly emphasized that the one crucial assumption for testing or using these systems is that people must assume that all of the present interpretations of the universe were subject to revision or replacement. As he pointed out, "No one needs to paint [himself] into a corner; no one needs to be completely hemmed in by circumstances; no one needs to be the victim of [his] biography." Basically, this philosophy is what has been defined as constructive alternativism.

Kelly authored a 1966 essay that was to be an introduction to a book in personal construct theory. The piece was not completed due to his death, but was published by a student and colleague, Don Bannister, in 1970 as "Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory." Kelly began with a philosophical inquiry, writing,

Who can say what nature is? Is it what now exits about us, including all the tiny hidden things that wait so patiently to be discovered? Or is it the vista of all that is destined to occur, whether tomorrow or in some distant eon of time? Or is nature infinitely more varied than this, the myriad trains of events that might ensue if we were to be so bold, ingenious, and irreverent as to take a hand in its management? . . . Personal construct theory is a notion about how [man] may launch out from a position of admitted ignorance, and how he may aspire from one day to the next to transcend his own dogmatisms. It is then, a theory of man's personal inquiry—a psychology of human quest. It does not say what has been or will be found, but proposes rather how we might go about looking for it.

Main points

From the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid who formulated the basis for both Greek and modern logic with his book, Elements, Kelly found the logical basis for his own system. What Kelly termed the psychology of personal constructs was laid out as a fundamental postulate (or hypothesis statement), which he used 11 corollaries to explain—in much the same way that Euclid laid out his own work. The fundamental postulate was: "A person's processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which [he] anticipates events." This is a statement to be used for purpose of examination and hypothesis, and not as an absolute truth. Kelly was proposing a new way of looking at human beings and their actions. He stated that he wanted to provide different ways of examining the unconscious mind, and along with that the typical human behaviors such as anxiety, guilt, creativity, aggression, and depression, among others. With the use of his primary diagnostic tool, known as the repertory grid, Kelly built an entire scientific system by which to evaluate human beings and consequently through which they could evaluate themselves.

His marked departure from the school of behaviorism, again, was approaching the issue as one that meant people were not passive beings who merely reacted to either their outer or inner environment. They were scientists who systematically created ways to make an impact in the world by their actions. The underlying theme in Kelly's theory was that of change—the world is continually changing, and therefore humans are continually changing their constructs of the world.

Explanation: Corollaries

Kelly's system is basically a simple one. It is one postulate with 11 corollaries that provide the various directions in which that postulate might go. A person might act in a certain way but due to the whole system of living, inquiry, and discovery a person has established, there are many different parts of it, in a clinical setting, that the individual and therapist must know about and also examine. If a client is seeking treatment for a problem, for instance, the client and the therapist both need to know who this person is by the deliberations they make. Kelly noted that in order for people to anticipate future events, they must create or construct some way that permits them to think of two of them in a similar way.


Understanding the implications of the corollaries is an important key to understanding the psychology itself. The corollaries were stated by Kelly as:

  1. Construction corollary—A person anticipates events by construing their replications.
  2. Individual corollary—Persons differ from each other in their constructions of events.
  3. Organization corollary—Each person characteristically evolves, for convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs.
  4. Dichotomy corollary—A person's construction system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs.
  5. Choice corollary—A person chooses for him- or herself that alternative in dichotomized construct through which is anticipated the greater possibility for extension and definition of the individual's system.
  6. Range corollary—A construct is convenient for anticipation of a finite range of events only.
  7. Experience corollary—A person's construction system varies as that person successively construes the replications of events.
  8. Modulation corollary—The variation in a person's construction system is limited by the permeability of the constructs within whose ranges of convenience the variants lie.
  9. Fragmentation corollary—A person may successively imply a variety of construction subsystems which are inferentially incompatible with each other.
  10. Commonality corollary—To the extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to that employed by another, that person's psychological processes are similar to those of the other person.
  11. Sociality corollary—To the extent that one person construes the construction processes of another, that person may play a role in a social process involving the other person.

The corollaries can be understood by examining their content as Kelly did.

Construction corollary How does a person anticipate an event by "construing" the replications of events? Each event that occurs is unique; but some events can be viewed by their similarities. This construction must include both the way to identify the events as similar, as well as how they are different. If a person does not see distinctions between occurrences, then the entire world is perceived to be the same, or homogeneous. If only the differences are realized, the result is a world of events and actions that are totally unrelated. This would create a sort of chaos offering no hope of understanding or communication—specifically, the communication people have with themselves in order to determine the action they will find necessary to perform. This corollary has implications in mathematics, as well. In order to calculate probability and predictability of events, it is necessary to take into account the concept of the replication of events.

Individuality corollary Each person is unique and constructs events in his or her own way. Because of such individuality in their natures, people are not likely to create identical systems. In later years, Kelly went even further to explain that it would also be unlikely that particular constructions represent identical events. Just as important to recognize is the fact that it is highly improbable that any two people would have joined together their construction systems by the same logical relationships, he noted.

Organization corollary What does it mean to say that each person anticipates events by evolving "a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs?" A person creates a system that will provide a way to function within it. There must be a way to move comfortably in order to examine in a way that provides solutions to problems and contradictions that are sure to arise. All such difficulties cannot be solved at once. That is not usually necessary for a person to continue. Some personal issues can remain unsolved indefinitely. The person can continue to imagine the outcome of either of two choices, for example, while figuring out what the future has in store.

Dichotomy corollary This concept is made up of the reality that a construct is a what might be termed as "black or white," and never gray. A dichotomy always represents a division into two sections. The construct is born out of the contrast between two different groups. When the construct goes up, it distinguishes between its elements and groups them as well. This refers to the nature of such a crucial distinction.

Choice corollary When people create their constructs, it is most likely that they will choose the one that might provide for expansion, or greater possibilities of their system. A choice implies that a person will desire a system that could also provide for a way to develop its usefulness. According to Kelly, when individuals make choices, they are aligning themselves in terms of their constructs. This does not mean that they will avoid or reach what their object is. It means simply that people choose how it is they want to proceed. Sometimes success in reaching or avoiding an event depends on what a person is willing to do to alter the construct—especially, for instance, when maintaining it might otherwise be psychologically catastrophic.

Range corollary This corollary refers to the fact that any construct is created only for a limited range of events and is not useful on a universal basis. Any one person cannot anticipate all the world's events. In fact, people do not create the constructs needed to cover the whole scale of events they might encounter. As Kelly explains it, "the geometry of the mind is never a complete system." It is virtually impossible to write a formula that could apply universally. A construct is something created for convenience, and for the set of objects with which it can successfully operate.

Experience corollary Experience represents a series of events due to the construction people create for the events that occur around them. If the construct is not altered as a person meets with different events, then there is no psychological impact on that person. In essence, change does not occur. If a person does invest energy enough to recognize that what was anticipated turns out to be different from what occurred, then an important connection has been made. When personal investments continue to meet with a movement that forces change from the original expectation, human experience is the result.

Modulation corollary In addition to expanding constructs due to events, sometimes it is necessary to realize an event presents limitations, as well. A construct system must be prepared to meet with this possibility. Otherwise the cycle of experience will fail. The systems that individuals devise must be able to admit revision at the end of this cycle. Unless a system has a permeability to accept new subordinate constructions—represented by new ideas, for instance—anything that does not fit into that system already will have no likelihood of ever fitting into it.

Fragmentation corollary People can make use of various construction subsystems that might not infer compatibility with one another when moving from point A to point B to point C. That is, what they saw when they were at point A might not be the reality when the person finally reaches point C; it might not have been anticipated logically in any way. That is not always an unfortunate consequence of human behavior. It can surpass a person's logic or rational thought, but the result can be the piece of a person's construction that actually brings about greatness.

Commonality corollary The major assumption of personal construct psychology is that people's behavior is governed by their constructs. In that way one person can be said to be psychologically similar to another person—that is what they have in common. Holding to this principle, it can be deduced that though two people who have experienced very different events, and who seem to have gone through the experiential cycle very differently, could emerge with similar constructions of their experiences, and continue to explore further using similar psychological processes. According to Kelly, it is this aspect of the theory that can release psychology "from assumptions about the identity of events" and how people depend on them. Here Kelly made the distinction of his psychology from that of the behaviorists and phenomenologists. His method provided a way to see people who might have to cope with familiar events in new ways, and cooperate with others in order to create a different world in a positive way.

Sociality corollary Kelly considered this corollary as his most far-reaching idea. With this, a person could create an environment in which to understand "role" as a psychological term, and provide for the vision of a psychological basis for society. This corollary would indicate that once a person actually attempts to construe the construction processes of another person, then the first person might not be able to anticipate the actions of that other person. It provides an opportunity for that person to take a guess, anticipate a deeper meaning to the other person's behavior, and attempt to figure out what that person's course of action will be. This implies that people treat each other as people, rather than as simple automatons whose behavior represents something other than a complex human being.

Explanation: Constructs

Kelly's use of the word "construed" rather than "constructed" is important when he is discussing exactly what constructs are. A construct implies the dual nature of something—the relationship between two things or events immediately indicates that the individual has determined their similarity. But simultaneously the differences between the two are also recognized. In the case that a person might construe a situation in terms of a "black vs. white" construct, then even if that construct is misapplied or inappropriate—such as a person seeing only the color of another person's skin rather than the deeper character issues that might be relevant—the individual has applied that construct to matters that are seen only as black or white. In other matters of daily life, whether it is the time of day, the cost of bus fare, or the caloric intake of a fast-food meal, such a construct would not be relevant.

The dual, or "bipolar nature," of constructs, as Kelly termed it, does not precisely follow traditional logic. While it can be deemed that such concepts as "black" and "white" are to be treated as separate concepts, or that the way to view things is that they are either naturally alike or very different, Kelly thought differently. He proposed that while the nature of things might be considered real and unchangeable, that reality exists more clearly in the eyes of the person interpreting it.

Pertinent to his explanation of the nature of constructs, Kelly also outlined and offered 21 additional questions and issues when discussing the matter. Those in the category of personal usage of constructs, in addition to the question regarding the basic nature of a personal construct as discussed in the previous paragraph, were:

  • Do people mean what they say?
  • Implied linkages in the interpretation of personal constructs.
  • Constructs and anticipations.
  • Constructs as controls.
  • The personal construction of one's role.
  • The real nature of constructs.

Under the category of formal aspects of constructs, Kelly presented the main categories for that aspect of defining his psychology, also with detailed explanation:

  • terminology
  • symbolism
  • communication
  • scales of constructs
  • scanning by means of constructs
  • personal security within the context of a construct
  • dimensions of constructs

In the next category, changing construction, Kelly adds the following issues for determination:

  • validation
  • conditions favorable to the formation of new constructs
  • conditions unfavorable to the formation of new constructs

The final section of Kelly's outline of explanation deals with the meaning of experience, a crucial piece of the puzzle of understanding human constructs, particularly in a clinical setting. The issues under consideration are:

  • the construed nature of experience
  • the interpretation of experience
  • the historical approach
  • group expectancies as validators of personal constructs
  • gaining access to personal constructs through the study of the culture in which they have grown

Examples Kelly elaborates each step in his process of unfolding the philosophy behind his psychology. He examined and explained the nature of personal constructs by detailing examples of how to understand each category when considering that question. Focusing on the issue of the therapist in treating clients, Kelly offered the discussion of the final category, that of understanding a person's culture in order to treat them. This matter is a relevant one given the modern-day concept of "political correctness"—in the sense that people are seen within the context of their group or culture. Kelly warned the therapist against stereotyping individuals, and grouping them together simply because they were of a certain culture. He offered the example that:

The Gentile therapist who comes in contact with a series of Jewish clients for the first time may also be baffled by the similarities he sees by way of contrast with his other clients. If he is to understand them as persons, rather than to stereotype them as Jews, he must neither ignore the cultural expectations under which they have validated their constructs—expectation of both Jewish and Gentile groups—nor make the mistake of focusing on the group constructs to the exclusion of the personal constructs of each client.

The responsible therapist using the psychology of personal constructs must be clear in the distinctions and definitions, just as any other scientist would.

Explanation: Repertory grid

The primary tool, or diagnostic instrument, for Kelly's psychology is known as the repertory grid. The original test devised by Kelly was meant to be used in a clinical, or pre-clinical setting. His idea was that the test, role construct repertory test (Rep test), as administered through his "grid" would serve five functions: 1) to define the client's problem in a way that it could most easily be addressed; 2) to uncover the client's own personal constructs, or manner in which the person functions moves and will move for the purpose of the examination; 3) to provide hypotheses in the clinical setting which can be carefully observed, monitored, and utilized; 4) to search and discover what resources the client has available that might not be obvious to a therapist except through such a tool; and 5) to uncover and accent the problems of the client that also might have been overlooked by the therapist.

Examples The test focuses on role constructs for the purpose of seeking an understanding of a person's personal social behavior. As created by Kelly, it was an application of a psychological test procedure already in use, known as the concept-formation. As the administration of the test developed, it became a simple grid. The grid itself is a table divided into columns, and essentially sorts people. There are two outer columns that list human characteristics. The remaining columns are filled with the names of people or objects that fit into a list of categories. For instance, in addition to places for each parent, siblings, and employer, and other similar categories. There are also places for such listings as a teacher that you liked, and one you disliked; a spouse or significant other; a person of the same sex you disliked in high school; and several other categories of people with whom you've interacted. Kelly's traditional test provided for up to 21 of those columns. Each person is listed with a designated number. The names are also written on cards. The tester shows the subject these cards in groups of three, and always asks the same question: "How are two of these similar and the third one different?" Each answer the subject gives represents a construct of the subject. Individual names rather than generalized concepts such as "male" or "female" are considered preferable because they are more personal to the subject, and provide the first inroads into the gathering of information necessary to analysis. The examiner sorts through these responses and recorded.

Kelly noted six constructs the subject might construe that could create the need for a follow-up to the test in order to make finer distinctions. Such constructs and their explanation are: 1) situational constructs—when a subject might answer, for instance, that two people are alike because they are from the same town; 2) excessively permeable constructs—when a subject would indicate that two people were alike simply because they are both men; 3) excessively impermeable constructs—a subject might answer that two people are alike because they are each firefighters, but the third is different because he or she is a law enforcement officer; 4) superficial constructs—when a subject might find a similarity simply because two people wear the same size of shoes; 5) vague constructs—when the subject indicates that both objects share a similar characteristic by saying something such as, "Oh, I don't like either of them"; and, 6) constructs which are a direct product of the role title—the subject responds to the question of similarity between two people, in the example Kelly offers, by saying that, "Both are hard to understand."

From the beginning, Kelly allowed for the possibility of variations of the rep test. He offered various elaborations through which a therapist might administer the test according to determining both personal and public construct systems. What he did proscribe was that certain assumptions should be accepted as premise to the test. Those he indicated were that: 1) of the "permeability of the constructs elicited"; 2) "preexisting constructs are elicited by the test"; 3) the test must be representative of all the people with whom the subject creates the construed role; 4) the subject must demonstrate an understanding of the constructs of others in order to understand the social interaction, even if that understanding is inadequate; 5) the subject must have clear role association in relation to the object, with constructs regarding that person clearly defined; and, 6) the subject must adequately communicate the constructs created and their explanation to the examiner.

Fixed-role therapy

Central to Kelly's psychology of personal constructs is the way in which that theory is utilized in treating clients. Of the many methods a therapist might employ, one that stands out is fixed-role therapy—creating a new self-characterization for the client based on one the client already provided. The therapy involves focusing around what is considered the primary moral argument of personal construct psychology. Bannister presents the issue in his essay entitled "Kelly versus clockwork psychology" in the International Handbook of Personal Construct Psychology. He noted that central to the argument were a couple of questions. The first was, "Is it possible that your personality is an invention?" Questions that follow that initial one would include, "Is it possible that laboriously through your life, step by step, you have been building a personality?" And, "Is it possible that you did not inherit your personality from your parents, that it is not fixed in you genetically or constitutionally or simply taught to you by your environment?" Kelly did not explore this brand of therapy by himself. He noted that in 1939 a group including other psychologists he identified as Edwards, McKenna, Older, along with him, had examined what they termed at the time only as "role therapy."

Explanation The procedure of this therapy employs the use of a sympathetic friend of the client writing the self-characterization, always written in the third person. Then, the therapist produces a fixed-role sketch based on the self-character sketch. This is primarily a character portrait of an imaginary person. The client then becomes that imaginary character for a certain period of time—perhaps for several weeks. What this does is put the client into a new role in order to begin to examine how people might act differently toward that person. Consequently, the client gathers new evidence about the surrounding world—specifically the personal responses and other people's relationships of the people he encounters.

Examples Kelly introduced this practice of fixed-role therapy in his book by introducing readers to a university student he called Ronald Barrett, described as someone who had requested psychological services due to complaints of his difficulties in academic, vocational, and social adjustments. By the time that fixed-role therapy was set for trial, Barrett had been through about nine psychotherapeutic interviews. The therapist could not see much change or promise that his problems would be solved. The school term was ending, and the client had decided to leave that university for another one a thousand miles away.

Kelly reproduced the sketch complete with the original misspellings and grammatical errors. It began with the sentence, "An overall appearance of Ronald Barrett would give one the impression that he had a rather quiet and calm personality." He was portrayed as a young man who was cautious about drawing any attention to himself in an unfavorable light in public. Even if he was only one in a group with someone who was causing a disturbance, he did not like the idea of being seen as a member of such a group. While there were occasions when he did get angry or frustrated and demonstrated those feelings, though not in public, he would rarely target his friends when showing such emotions. Barrett appeared to be a person who was disdainful of his own stupid mistakes, as well as those of others, even when it was a matter considered minor by everyone else. As the sketch went on, it was revealed that he did show great mood extremes. He was also someone who continually tried to impress people, especially those who were older, by relaying his knowledge, maturity, and sincerity. In fact, it seemed that one of his biggest issues was inconsideration on the part of anyone at all, including himself. As someone who embodied a certain morality and set of ethics, Barrett was thus subject to guilt feelings when he felt he did not measure up to the compassion he held as a high priority. He was most critical of his family, correcting them relentlessly when he believed they were wrong on a matter, and went to great lengths to prove he was right. In the same matter, Barrett had often been gullible when believing something too easily and then arguing its correctness even when it turned out not to be. The sketch did note that he seemed to have that characteristic under better control. At that point, he was not as quick to give way to this inclination.

In other matters, Barrett's personality portrait presented someone who was rigid in his beliefs, particularly religious beliefs. He suffered from a lack of confidence especially with members of the opposite sex, creating serious awkwardness when it came to dating—the sketch noted that he put too much thought into kissing a girl on a date, or calling again even if he had already been out with her two or three times. Barrett was described as someone with both positive qualities and negative, especially in certain inconsistencies between his stated beliefs and his actions.

As a part of the therapy for Barrett, the fixed-role sketch gave the subject a different name, that of "Kenneth Norton." The sketch was one that focused on his positive qualities, providing as well for a positive spin on what were originally stated as negative habits. He was portrayed as a person who connected in an intimately cordial way very quickly to all he met. Norton was characterized as a good listener who was not dismissive of anyone else's ideas. He gave attention to the details of views of other people as being something important. Women found him attractive largely because he was so willing to listen to their point of view. He gave even his parents the opportunity to listen to his ideas and share his enthusiasm and his accomplishments. As Kelly pointed out about the sketch, its theme was essentially one that found, "the seeking of answers in the subtle feelings of other people rather than in literalistic dispute with them."

Both of the sketches provide only the beginnings of the fixed-role therapy. The therapist as well as the client has to evaluate the situation and help decide where to proceed. This involves the client's reactions as well as other types of situations the new role might not have included. He and other have explained the whole process in greater detail. What he did emphasize was that he believed that in order for the therapy to be successful, six sessions in a two-week period that included the presentation session was the minimum required in order for the therapist to achieve any positive results. Kelly related the end of his final interview with his client Barrett, telling him that "We did not want to throw Ronald Barrett in the ash can. Rather, Kenneth Norton was in a sense supposed to be another Ronald Barrett, a different version of him. I used the analogy of the onion skin where one layer comes off revealing another layer." Barrett indicated that he understood well, that Norton was just another facet of his personality. Kelly determined that Barrett had made great progress in the sessions through this use of fixed-role therapy.


Kelly's life and work followed almost exactly through the first half of the twentieth century—from the time of his birth in 1905 until the time of his death in 1967. This man who was born in the early days of the automobile, only two years after the Wright Brothers' attempt at flying, was already four years old when he went with his parents by covered wagon to settle land in eastern Colorado. He was someone whose place in history might be difficult to fathom for anyone who came of age by the turn of the next century. He was truly a child of the period of time that would come to be known as the "American century." Kelly grew up through World War I, in which modern warfare technology began to change the face of war. The methods used to wage war using gas as a weapon brought a new horror to the future. Kelly came of age during the 1920s, when technological inventions were transforming industry and society at a rate previously unseen. The beginning of his professional career in western Kansas during the darkest days of the Depression, in an area that suffered perhaps more intensely due to years of drought, was directly affected by the cases he handled. He wrote that during that the 12 years he spent at Fort Hays that he head "several more priceless opportunities to revise my outlook." He recalled that "It was a time for a teacher to talk of courage and adventure in the midst of despair." Still, Kelly would be the first to say that it was not really the circumstances, or that he felt any calling to do what he did. And by that time, he decided that if it was he who initiated his own actions, why would others not do the same?

Even if he wanted to talk more about what he did with how he was raised, Kelly's childhood clearly provided a fascinating historical context for the person he would become as an adult, and ultimately as a psychologist. He emerged from the sort of rugged individualism for which a young country was still known. Kelly understood the principles of self-determination from his father, who gave up a career in the Presbyterian ministry to follow the life of a farmer. His mother was the daughter of an adventurer. She chose to be a Midwestern farmer's wife at a time when America's increasing urbanization might have provided her with a world of culture and society instead of rural isolation. Kelly's early education was an example of determination to learn without the early formality of schooling. His university life would unearth so many matters of interest that it was almost enough to cause concern that he would settle into a stable way to earn a living.

Yet the education he chose did lead to the psychology he would create. As an engineering student who majored in mathematics and physics, it was the scientist in him that would direct his future and provide the motivation for a new way to look at human behavior. As a mathematician, Kelly would find inspiration in the straightforward system of the ancient Greek scholar Euclid who had published a simple book on geometry centuries earlier. The way in which he prepared his 1,000 page manuscript was presented as postulate and corollaries—the same structure Euclid used. In the essay on Kelly for the International Handbook, Fransella and Neimeyer did point out that Kelly's reliance on mathematical theory was such that he pointed out that "Johann Herbart's work on education and particularly mathematical psychology influenced me. I think mathematics is the pure instance of construct functioning—the model of human behavior."

The more positive influences on Kelly did come from various areas of philosophy, as well. He was known to cite John Dewey, the religious thinker and follower of pragmatism. He was also influenced by his study of phenomenonology. Another influence was the linguistic philosopher, Alfred Korzybski, who suggested the idea of "constructs" as interpretations that reveal as much of the humans who utilize them, as about the objects they describe. Hans Vaihinger was a philosopher who proposed the "as if" proposition as he built his own brand of constructive alternativism—already noted as the philosophy on which Kelly began to build his own psychology.

What perhaps influenced Kelly in a negative way was the contemporary popularity of behaviorism and the psychodynamic approach to psychology. He reacted so strongly against that notion that he felt compelled to pursue his own idea that humans were more in charge of themselves than either of those two methods implied. When Kelly published his work on April 15, 1955, America had already entered the age of the atomic and nuclear bombs. The country was also in the midst of the "Red scare" during the Cold War against the Soviet Union and the other Communist countries. School children were practicing air raid drills, people were building bomb shelters, and anxiety over the possibility of nuclear holocaust loomed. It was the era of the "Beatnik," and the gradual evolution of a new kind of individualism. The rumblings of the Civil Rights movement had begun in earnest among black Americans—a time when an oppressed people were speaking up, marching, boycotting, and saying they were no longer going to be victims of a two-tiered justice or social system. The world was in the early dawn of the computer age, as well.

Kelly's work was well received for the most part though it was clearly seen as a major departure from the behaviorism so widely practiced. Indeed, with all of the work he and other psychologists were doing to establish the right of clinical psychologists to separate from the medical profession, and to receive acceptance as scientific practitioners, his work began to pave the way into an age of information technology when even the average person was called on to partake of science. Kelly's system was an obvious beginning to a whole new direction in research of the human psyche and the behavior it produced.


While Kelly met with praise from the reviews of psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Jerome Bruner, he certainly met with criticism as well. According to the Biographical Dictionary of Psychology, the major objections of the time of publication and into a new century centered around three major arguments, as directly quoted:

  • The theory had relatively little to offer on the issues of growth and development.
  • It is not specific about the motivational basis for many people's decisions (i.e., the connections between construct systems and motivational forces are obscure).
  • In dispensing with the distinction between cognition and emotion, his theory underemphasizes the role played by emotional and affective factors.

The third argument was one to which Kelly particularly took exception. He emphasized that any such perceived neglect of emotional issues was not a part of a clinical setting.

Regarding the criticism that Kelly did not address the issue of human development, Fransella has argued that the omission was deliberate. The entire personal construct theory was about development, she noted. "Human beings are seen as forms of motion," Fransella pointed out, no matter what age they are. Another reason for omission was Kelly's reluctance to categorize people, which is what he thought such traditional models (of stages of growth through particular ages) do. While Piaget was known to share some of his affinity for constructivism, Kelly did not subscribe to such theories of his either. Kelly certainly had years of experience with children during his traveling clinic days in Kansas. He believed more that "becoming"—as humans developed into the people they were to become—was a process that was individualized to the extent that both children and adults are constantly changing and not simply staying at one stage or another. Fransella and Neimeyer offered this factor as another possibility for the "neglect" for this part of his theory. Others have since developed this part of his theory more extensively, which will be explained in the next section on research and modern-day relevance.

A crucial issue has been mentioned but should be viewed is the profound contribution Kelly made to scientific research. Kelly was one of the key psychologists who helped alter the way research was conducted. Italian psychologists Gabriele Chiari, of the Centro Studi in Psicoterapia Cognitiva, in Florence, and Maria Laura Nuzzo, of the Centro di Psicologia e Psicoterapia Costruttivista, in Rome, provided a chapter for the International Handbook entitled, "Kelly's Philosophy of Constructive Alternativism." In 2003, as an introductory paragraph to their essay, they wrote that:

Many psychologists prefer to regard psychology as a science that has become one and for all separated from philosophy, its ancestral roots. Science, they think, uses the scientific method, that is, a method that allows its followers to gain access to the ultimate reality, while the speculations of philosophers have no validity as to the knowledge of reality and the verification of the truth. These psychologists fail to consider that the dependence of their inquiries, and of the very scientific method they hold so dear, are based on a definite set of assumptions—usually unspoken—whose questioning and analysis are exactly the prerogative of philosophy.

Kelly, they explained, "was aware that philosophical speculation is inescapable, for any scientific investigation." Chiari and Nuzzo, as did others, pointed out the significance of the two terms Kelly coined—accumulative fragmentalism, as opposed to constructive alternativism. The former can best be defined as the idea that knowledge is based on the accumulation of fragmented thoughts. According to Kelly, the authors noted "Science proceeds by way of conjectures and refutation: any person, as a scientist, does the same."

Among the names of many well-known scientists and scholars whose ideas penetrate the discussion of Kelly is the name of one philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996). He appears on the horizon of those theories that are either directly or indirectly connected to Kelly's work. While he cannot be categorized among the followers of Kelly, his work as introduced in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, embodies much of the focus of the constructivists. For further study and research on Kuhn, information is available through the Society for Constructivism in the Human Sciences. His theories on scientific method can provide an enhancement and variation to Kelly's work.

Perhaps a major reason for criticism of Kelly emerged from the fact that he actually created a whole new psychology. There was an initial burst of interest when he published his work, though that interest quickly faded. Most of those who immediately pursued research based on personal construct psychology were clinicians rather than the academicians who would represent the links necessary to further such a groundbreaking direction. Kelly himself tended to avoid being labeled, or linking himself easily to other theories in psychology. He did not receive notice in the United States because of those factors. In 1997, Dr. C. George Boeree of the psychology department of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania noted:

The reasons for this lack of attention are not hard to fathom. The 'science' branch of psychology was at that time still rather mired in a behaviorist approach to psychology that had little patience with the subjective side of things. And the clinical side of psychology found people like Carl Rogers much easier to follow. . . Kelly was a good 20 years ahead of his time. Only recently, with the so-called "cognitive revolution," are people really ready to understand him.

Apparently it was Kelly himself who suggested that if his theory were still around in 10 or 20 years (Kelly died less than 12 years after publishing the psychology), in a form too close to the original, that might not be a good thing. As a true constructive alternativist, Kelly believed that individual views of reality must change. Because he built not only a whole new psychology but a whole new language, Kelly's critics often had a difficult time with their criticism of his work. Again, many critics abandoned him altogether. Yet his base of followers grew, even if the fact remained that he was embraced more readily outside of the United States than inside. Particularly in England he gained quite a modicum of notoriety. Industrial psychologists found his new methods translated efficiently to labor or employment environments. As of 2004, the centers for personal construct psychology and journals are concentrated in England, Australia, Germany, and Canada.

Vincent Kenny is one proponent of Kelly's work who has written extensively about it He is the director of the Institute of Constructivist Psychology in Dublin, Ireland. He has quoted Kelly's comments regarding the hazards of categorizing the psychology. Kelly had said that he had been

so puzzled over the early labeling of personal construct theory as "cognitive" that several years ago I set out to write another short book to make it clear that I wanted no part of cognitive theory. The manuscript was about a third completed when I gave a lecture at Harvard University with the title, "Personal Construct Theory as a Line of Inference." Following the lecture, Professor Gordon Allport explained to the students that my theory was not a "cognitive" theory but an "emotional" theory. Later the same afternoon, Dr. Henry Murray called me aside and said, "You know, don't you, that you are really an existentialist?"

Kenny further points out that Kelly and his psychology had been categorized in a number of other ways including, a learning theory; psychoanalytic theory—Freudian, Adlerian, Jungian; typically American theory; Marxist Theory; humanistic theory; logical positivistic theory; a Zen Buddhistic theory; a Thomistic theory; a behavioristic theory; an Apollonian theory; a pragmatistic theory; a reflective theory; and, no theory at all. Kenny added the observation that:

From these comments it is clear that Kelly's theory has been treated somewhat like a Rorschach inkblot, wherein people can find what they expect to see, by reading in the light of their own theories and therefore not being able to discern the radically different nature of the theory.

In summarizing Kelly's theory, Kenny has provided an interesting perspective. He said that "Personal construct theory is very difficult to grasp largely because it emphasizes organization and structure as opposed to content. It tells us not what to think but rather how to go about understanding what we do think." An important question that remains after the 50 years since Kelly published his work would be: Why did it take so long for Americans to see in the theory what people from countries throughout the world saw almost immediately?

Kelly's legacy

One quick search through the worldwide web of the early twenty-first century can provide an extensive view into the revolution that Kelly brought into being with one book, as well as the many branches of disciplines using constructive philosophy as their basis. Kelly did something more complex than simply giving birth to other psychological trends or theories. His basic system spawned a far-reaching network of other construct theoreticians and practicing clinicians. It was as if he created the design of a building that set a standard for numerous variations of that architecture—possibly for generations to come. Centers throughout the world are dedicated to personal construct psychology. As of 2004, the major centers and organizations around the world that were dedicated to personal construct psychology in the United States and abroad included, North American Personal Construct Network (NAPCN); European Personal Construct Association (EPCA)—yet another testimony to the fact that perhaps Kelly was ahead of his time is that this association was founded in 1990; Australian Personal Construct Group (APCG); Centre for Personal Construct Psychology, in England; Society for Constructivism in the Human Sciences, based in Denton, Texas, devoted to constructivism; Houston Galveston Institute; Institute for the Study of Psychotherapeutic Change; Taos Institute (social constructionism); Constructivism and Discourse Processes Research Group; and the International Network on Personal Meaning.

The International Handbook provides a large sampling of all of the theories and research being done by Kelly's disciples—many of whom were born after his death. It is the key reference for the subject. By no means can it cover all of the work being done, or all of the people who are doing it. The use of Kelly's system has spread to such varied areas as business, family therapy, nursing education, and sports. In addition to that book, hundreds of others books, essays, and lectures regarding one of the many aspects of personal construct psychology have been published. Journals focused on the subject include Journal of Constructivist Psychology, Constructivism in the Human Sciences, Constructivist Chronicle, the newsletter of the NAPCN, The International Personal Construct Psychology Newsletter, Narrative Psychology Internet and Resource Guide, and Postmodern Therapies NEWS.

Radical constructivism One of the important offshoots of personal construct psychology is the theory of radical constructivism. The phrase and idea were coined in 1974 by Ernst von Glaserfeld. According to the Web site devoted to the discipline, von Glaserfeld was concerned with compromising constructivism. Unless constructivism is "complete" or "radical," according to him, it could easily relapse into what he called "some kind of fancy realism." Radical constructivism is defined as "an unconventional approach to the problem of knowledge and knowing." It is based on the premise that however knowledge is defined, it "is in the heads of persons." Consequently, the thinking subjects have no other way to act but to construct what they know drawn from their experience. What humans interpret of their experience, much in line with Kelly's original assumption, is the reality of the world for each person, the only realm of consciousness for each individual. The theory also includes the contention that nonetheless, all experiences are basically subjective. People can imagine that the experience of others might be similar to theirs, but have no way of confirming that. For the radical constructivists, this includes the experience and interpretation of language. In that regard, Kelly was only one in a line of scholars who embraced the notion of constructivism, and was by no means the first.

The names of six people emerge as significant in the field of radical constructivism. In addition to Kelly himself, they are Heinz von Foerster (born November 13, 1911); Humberto Maturana, known by the phrase, "Everything said is said by an observer"; Ernst von Glaserfeld; Gordon Pask (died 2003), who developed a conversation theory; and, Jakob von Uexküll, who published his main theories first in 1928 in Theoretische Biologie. Von Foerster ran the Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois) from the late 1950s until the middle of the 1970s. The BCL brought together scholars and scientists whose thinking was similar to his. In addition to Maturana and Pask, two other prominent members of the BCL were Francisco Varela, known for developing the ideas of circularity and considered an innovator in cognition; as well as W. Ross Ashby, one of the main figures in the cybernetics movement.

The decade of the 1980s, particularly in Germany, was a time of prolific publication of translations of the work of others in the field, including Siegfried J. Schmidt, Hans-Rudi Fischer, Gerhard Roth, and, Gebhard Rusch. It was during that period also that the work of von Uexküll's work from the 1920s and 1930s was also made more widely available through reissues and translation.

Social constructivism Another theory based on constructivist notions is that of social constructivism. Its premise is that reality or truth is made, not discovered. In Kelly's world that railed against absolute truths and supported an ever-changing reality, this extension seems to find its logical place. Max Hocutt, a professor of philosophy at the University of Alabama, noted in a criticism of the doctrine for the Spring 1999 issue of Behavior and Philosophy that the doctrine had achieved followers for a couple of reasons. "First," he wrote, "it is flattering. People like to be told that their opinions are as good as other people's. Second, when taken in a certain way—as the belief that different beliefs might both be true—social constructivism is unobjectionable." In fairness to social constructivists, however, the designation of the word, "truth" or "reality" is crucial to understanding the distinction between beliefs held between two or more people. Hocutt criticizes the use of the word "truth" when belief would be better utilized.

Social psychology is a field that began to gain prominence at a time coinciding with Kelly's publication. It is a field that has been significantly affected by his theories—even those that might transgress from his original principles. Two prominent modern social psychologists, Susan T. Fiske and Elizabeth F. Loftus, who are profiled in this chapter, are further examples of Kelly's legacy. Fiske is a member of the faculty of Princeton University who has become known for her work in defining social relationships, particularly those regarding race, gender, and age. Loftus has achieved fame as a memory specialist best known for her work in the field of exposing repressed memory syndrome. Her 1994 book with Katherine Ketham, The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse, created a public explosion of an increasingly accepted premise of therapy. At a time when sexual abuse of minors, particularly the major issues of parental abuse, and those regarding accusations against the officials of the Roman Catholic church in the United States, the theory created controversy and continued to do so even 10 years after its publication.


Susan T. Fiske

Susan T. Fiske is a prominent social psychologist and professor of psychology at Princeton University. She was born on August 19, 1952, to Donald W. Fiske and Barbara Page Fiske. Fiske has one brother, Alan Page Fiske, a professor of anthropology at UCLA. Her father was a psychologist and psychology professor, as well. His career spanned nearly five decades. He retired from the University of Chicago (UC) and died at the age of 86 in April 2003. Fiske was the first recipient of the Donald W. Fiske Distinguished Lecture series that was established in his honor in 1999 at UC. With her father at UC throughout her childhood, Fiske was raised in the racially integrated, stable university neighborhood of Hyde Park on Chicago's south side. She has mentioned that growing up in such an environment had an impact on her interest in race relations.

Fiske graduated magna cum laude from Radcliffe College, Harvard University, in 1973, with an A.B. in Social Relations. She completed her Ph.D. at Harvard in 1978 in Social Psychology. In 1995 she was honored with a Docteur Honoris Causa, Ph.D. from the Universit Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

Fiske has authored over 100 journal articles and book chapters; edited seven books and journal special issues. It was her graduate text with Shelley Taylor, Social Cognition, first published in 1984, with a second edition in 1991, that provided definition for the sub-field of the way people think about and make sense of other people, according to the UC department of social psychology press release when Fiske received the Fiske Distinguished Lecture honor.

Her research focus has addressed how stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination are both promoted and discouraged through social relationships. Her work in social cognition also brought her the distinguished honor of being an expert witness for a case before the United States Supreme Court in what was considered a landmark case in 1984. Addressing similar issues, Fiske was also asked to testify in front of President Clinton's Race Initiative Advisory Board in 1998. Among her many honors, Fiske received the 1991 American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest, Early Career, partly as a result of her Supreme Court testimony.

As a psychologist specializing in social cognition, Fiske gives witness to the strength of Kelly's personal construct psychology. In "A Conversation with Susan Fiske," for Psychology is Social, Readings and Conversations in Social Psychology, Third Edition, Fiske told interviewer Edward Krupat that social cognition

deals with how people think about other people and themselves and how they come to some kind of coherent understanding of each other. Sometimes what I tell people on airplanes is it's about how people form first impressions of strangers. That's not quite right, but on airplanes it's an effective conversation-stopper when necessary.

In that same interview, Fiske provided an insight to the progress that social cognition and its ancestral theory, had evolved in the last 50 years. She offered the information that the notion of "person as information processor" and the computer metaphor had faded, and fallen out of favor to a degree. She noted that "people are finding it too narrow and too oriented towards sequential, A-leads-to-B-leads-to-C kinds of processes." She explained that, "There are too many things that happen simultaneously, too many things related to emotions, feelings, and behavior."

Fiske published Social Beings: A Core Motives approach to social psychology through Wiley, New York, in 2004. In 2004, she was also named to the American Psychological Association Master Lecture award.

The computer age

Kelly's distaste for labels and the attempts to categorize him has not discouraged the association of his ideas with the explosion of the information-technology age, and the expansion of the computer even in the lives of average people. One e-publication made available through the University of Calgary's Center of Personal Construct Psychology (Alberta, Canada) is entitled "Knowledge Acquisition Tools based on Personal Construct Psychology." Written by Brian R. Gaines and Mildred L. G. Shaw of the Knowledge Science Institute at Calgary, the document chronicles their research into the direct correlation between personal construct psychology and its support of modern-day technology's development. The abstract of their work specified that

Personal construct psychology is a theory of individual and group psychological and social processes that has been used extensively in knowledge acquisition research to model the cognitive processes of human experts. The psychology takes a constructivist position appropriate to the modeling of human knowledge processes but develops this through the characterization of human conceptual structures in axiomatic terms that translate directly to computational form.

Gaines and Shaw went on to show the close relationship of personal construct psychology to the foundation for artificial intelligence. These researchers have also published further discussion of research that Kelly's work has been significant in cognitive and computational knowledge representation, as "Kelly's 'Geometry of Psychological Space' and its Significance for Cognitive Modeling."

Another major outgrowth of Kelly's repertory grid has been its use for the World Wide Web. Now evolved into WebGrid III, WebGrid is a port of RepGrid/KSS0 used to operate as a service over the World Wide Web. According to its official web site through the University of Calgary, WebGrid requires its users to "define a domain of interest, a context or purpose, and some elements or entities that are a part of the domain and relevant" to the users' purpose. It then gets constructs from users that indicate how they distinguish the elements of their domains that are relevant to their purposes. The system employs a variety of methods for this task, and provides the means for users to compare constructs with other users.

Another example of the inspiration Kelly has been to scientists is the work of two faculty members from the University of the West Indies. S. Haque-Copilah of the department of physics, and S. Rollocks of the department of behavioral sciences, combined in research to determine the parallels between Kelly's theory and Einstein's theory of special relativity.

In his 1966 paper "Ontological Acceleration," Kelly offered yet another challenge for his psychology, as well as that of any. He explained that

It will not be easy for a psychology modeled on nineteenth century science—and a science that believed that evolution had leveled off, at that—to participate in the accelerated behavioral innovations that promise to change the shape of the human affairs that confront it. Did I say, "not be easy?" I should have said, "be incredible!" Yet I think it should be possible for psychologists, who are less self-conscious about being scientists, to participate in the quickening human enterprise, once they appreciate the creative role of behavior in the affairs of man.


Beginning almost immediately after Kelly published his work, someone began to do research using personal construct psychology as a basis. Kelly was not known to show much interest in acquiring research to support his theories. He found more value in using them abstractly—using them to re-evaluate what people already knew to be true. From that point, experiments could begin with subjects in collaboration with researchers or therapists, continuing to explore the destinations to which all might be headed. Nonetheless, research has been conducted on virtually every aspect of his theory and psychology, in various settings throughout the world. Many examples can be provided. The following represent only a few of them. Modern-day therapists and researchers continue to explore the usefulness of personal construct psychology in a variety of clinical areas that include weight issues, stuttering, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, grieving and loss, psychotherapy, and, of course, various forms of role therapy. True to Kelly's early work with children, there are many approaches as well in dealing with children—problems with parents, teachers, and the adults' problems with children. In a previously unpublished lecture Kelly had given at the Faculty of General Studies at the University of Puerto Rico in 1958, he even offered direction in how to handle teacher-student relations at a university using his psychology.


According to Jack Adams-Webber of Brock University in Canada, as of 2003, research based on Kelly's psychology only continued to grow. He has noted that certain corollaries have been the subject of extensive research throughout the years. Of those on which he has elaborated are the following: the individuality corollary, the commonality corollary, the sociality corollary, and the range corollary.

Regarding the individuality corollary, following a significant amount of research, Adams-Webber reported that "it has been shown repeatedly that individuals manifest highly stable personal preferences for using particular constructs to interpret events" (noted in Higgins et al., 1982). People were usually found to rate themselves and others more clearly in their own constructs than from any constructs that might have been provided them. Such research has indicated that individuals' own constructs carry more weight due to the personal nature of the viewpoint provided. In another set of research cited by Adams-Webber (Hinkle, 1965; Fransella, 1972; Fransella & Bannister, 1977), there also emerges evidence that each person's constructs are "embedded in a personal context of meaning defined in part by its relationship of implications with other constructs." The basic thrust of this research was that people do not tend to evaluate only the information presented to them. They tend to infer more meaning in the information, also based on previous constructs (Delia et al., 1971). In other research based on the corollary (McDonagh, 1987), the more a person values a particular construction in relation to understanding people, it holds a greater "implication potential"—or proved to increase the number of inferences.

In various findings that spanned from 1971 to 1972, people were shown to be more responsive in social situations among people whose constructs proved to be similar. A series of research studies by Duck (1973), as reported by Adams-Webber, showed that similarity was also significant in forming, developing, and maintaining role relationships. Duck was able to adequately verify that friends as a rule demonstrated "more similarity in terms of elicited personal constructs than pairs of individuals who are not friends." Simply put, a further finding of this research has shown that it is this similarity of construction that usually precedes a friendship, perhaps encouraging it, rather than something that emerges as a result of the friendship. Of the other significant findings, it was found that agreement is greater regarding the pattern of interrelationships among the positive poles of constructs such as "happy" rather than among the negative opposites such as "sad." In findings from research conducted in 1979, Adams-Webber that this "normal usage of the former tends to conform more closely to their standard lexical definitions."

In research focused on the sociality corollary, Niemeyer and Hudson in 1985 suggested that spouses might encourage each other to develop by "validating and extending their systems of understanding." In utilizing a tool known as Crockett's Role Category Questionnaire, (RCQ) Adams-Webber found there was a definite correlation between spouses. People who fill out the RCQ first nominate a list of acquaintances on the basis of a predetermined set of role categories, such as "a person of the opposite gender whom you like." They then describe that person in detail within a three-minute time limit. The score, known as the cognitive complexity score, represents the number of different personal constructs the person has used across all descriptions. Crockett notes that "if such samples are obtained in a standard manner for a set of people, then the differences in the number of constructs those people employ may be assumed to reflect differences in the total number of constructs that are available to them."

Case studies

In a post-9/11 world and in the midst of terrorist threats—to name only a few traumas of a modern world—utilizing Kelly's psychology to deal with post-traumatic stress is something that could prove to be particularly desirable. In an examination of that, Kenneth W. Sewell of the University of North Texas has provided an approach that he has outlined for the International Handbook. He explained that

the essential feature of Kelly's theory from a post-traumatic stress point of view is found in his fundamental postulate. . .Our psychological processes are channelized by the ways in which we anticipate events. That emphasis makes personal construct theory particularly useful in conceptualizing and helping those who have experienced some trauma.

Sewell offered several case examples from therapy, and in the context of what was necessary in the process for that individual. In order to illustrate certain desired outcomes, Sewell has identified each case under that particular heading.

Symptom management A client identified as an adult male, "Gary," was known to have a very clear memory of the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Still, when he began therapy he was only able to express his issues in a very vague way. It was early in therapy that Gary realized that overeating was how he sheltered himself from those painful memories. With the help of the therapist, he was able to begin to distinguish between his emotions and his physical hunger. The therapist utilized several techniques including scripted self-talk, "feeling" journal, and relaxation training. These techniques helped Gary handle his disconcerting flashbacks, the sleeplessness his anxiety over the issue had caused him, and his anger, which he was not always able to control, and which would result in sudden outbursts. It was this new way of dealing with his pain that helped him learn what Sewell called "the process of overt introspection." What resulted for the client was a new role relationship that began his process of reconstructing with the help of a therapist.

Life review A woman known as Michelle could not assuage the self-blame she felt after she had gotten into a car with a stranger who eventually assaulted her. In the therapy, she was asked to talk about her life before the assault. She expressed the fact that she had experienced abandonment by her parents, and had been street-wise at an early age. Though she was known to be tough as a young child, a trait she developed for survival, Michelle also recounted times of exceptional vulnerability, especially when she was shown kindness by someone. As Sewell noted, "Reconciling what for Michelle were experienced as opposite self-constructions would prove to be a substantial task requisite to readjusting after the trauma." Using the life review or the calling upon a previous metaconstruction, described as "exploring the rear view mirror," Michelle would be able to identify those parts of her past, as well as what of her evaluation needed reconstruction. She would have to risk vulnerability again if she wanted to deal with the therapist successfully enough to enter her world.

Trauma reliving Tom was a veteran of Vietnam. Every time he even began to approach the details of combat memories, he found a reason to escape the task of going very deeply into the trauma he remembered. He would get what he could from the therapy, but at the same time would act to protect the therapist from the intense pain he had experienced. That resulted in Tom's frustration that he therapist did not understand him very well. Even though the therapist would continue to gently encourage him to relive his memories, offering the safe shelter of time and distance of the therapist's office, the process was difficult. Finally the two of them went together back to war, staying hidden as the enemy disembarked a gunboat searching through the tall grass and eventually finding several of Tom's comrades, according to Sewell. Both Tom and his therapist listened to the screaming of the soldiers and the gunfire that ensued. What was revealed that when the boat was gone, both of them experienced the situation of finding Tom's battalion members tied to trees and skinned alive before they were shot. By reliving this experience together, Tom and his therapist were able to talk from the same place of the painful experience. It would prove to be only the beginning of reconstruction, but the process had finally begun.


1905: Born on a farm near Perth, Kansas, as the only child to Theodore and Elfreda Kelly.

1926: Graduates with a bachelor's degree from Park College, Kansas.

1928: Receives a master's degree from the University of Kansas.

1930: Studies through a fellowship, received a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Edinburgh.

1931: Receives his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Married Gladys Thompson on June 3 of that same year.

1941–45: Serves during World War II as a Navy aviation psychologist, and teaches at the University of Maryland.

1946: Accepts the position as director of clinical programs for the school of psychology at the Ohio State University, following Carl Rogers.

1955: W. W. Norton & Company publishes Kelly's groundbreaking, two-volume work, The Psychology of Personal Constructs.

1965: Begins research position at Brandeis University where Abraham Maslow was also working at the time.

1967: Dies on March 6.

Constructive bridging The client Darla had been both verbally and physically assaulted by a delivery man who had come to her home. She was taking the blame for letting the man into her home, and for not doing more to stop his behavior and protect herself. At first she was not able to look at the situation clearly and examine the sequence of events. When she began to write and talk about the trauma, and then read her account and process it with the previous accounts she had related to the therapist, she was able to also remember what she had done to thwart the attack. As she was able to examine each aspect of her experience, even those she had first viewed as meaningless, she was able to reconstrue herself as someone who acted rather than simply serving as a victim.

Relevance to modern readers

As has already been emphasized, Kelly's psychology has become more widely accepted as an important tool for humans than it was when he introduced it in 1955. America and its people have been through a lot of experiences since that spring day nearly 50 years ago. The national consciousness has had the opportunity to experience its life virtually on a television screen, and through a journey into cyberspace. Though the misconception of the 1950s as simply an ethereal era of stay-at-home mothers and idyllic lives in the suburbs has long been addressed as a misconception, one factor remains true. The presumably "golden age" when Kelly published his new psychology was not only blasted out of range by President Kennedy's assassination, the Vietnam war, and the new age of sexual freedom—as well as the diseases such as AIDS that ultimately came with it. It was, as Kelly would note, altered by years of experience. That being said, why it took so long for so many of his ideas to take hold might be debated for decades to come. In an era when people throughout the world stand against such vivid threats as terrorism or nuclear holocaust, there might be an emerging sense that taking control of life is what is required. At a time when people have so many choices for their lives, when technology offers both caution and promise for the thresholds of new careers, perhaps individuals are ready to face reconstructing their world in order to better partake of the larger one around them.

Kelly once commented that, "To construe is to invent, pure and simple. As far as discovery is concerned, all that one ever discovers is whether or not the predictions, to which his invention has led him, pan out." In the early years of the twenty-first century, the opportunities to find meaning in his theories seem unbounded. Among them, Fransella discussed the several aspects of life that could be explained through the use of personal construct psychology—from music to literary criticism to construing historic decisions.

Fransella wrote in 2003 in her essay, "New Avenues to Explore and Questions to Ask," for the International Handbook, that, "One of the few accounts of Kelly's ideas being applied to the world of music comes from Kelly himself in his description of the construction corollary." She noted that every time a person listens to a familiar piece of music, the melody is still recognizable whether it has changed key or rhythm or volume. "Construing is about prediction and anticipation," wrote Fransella, "and a piece of music can only be recognized by our being able to predict those notes that are about to follow." She has cited a study from Davies (1976) wherein the account of how brass and string players in an orchestra construed each other. Based on the idea that string plays determined that brass players were not as smart, who liked to be in the spotlight, and were often the clowns of the group. The string players were construed by the brass players to be "like a flock of sheep," overly sensitive, and considering themselves to be the true blessings of the musical world. Music exists in the context of movement. Whether it is the experimental jazz of a musician like Sun Ra, or the studied perfection of a classic of Mozart, no piece of music is totally predictable. Numerous studies have been conducted and will continue to be conducted on music and its effects. Should those studies include construing, the revelations about this medium might continue to stun, as well.

With its many implications for an endless range of disciplines and subject, personal construct psychology remains a fascinating tool of exploration. In the political world of a shrinking globe, the way in which the theory could affect insight into history-making decisions was explored by David Gillard in 2002. He said that society "can assume that foreign policy consists of the construing by a small number of identifiable individuals of the behavior of their counterparts in other states," according to Fransella, who went on to explain that, "This they do through identifying their opponents' personal constructs and trying to change of reinforce them by a wide choice of methods, which can range from intimate discussion to total war." The world has witnessed throughout history the way in which some leaders are able to join forces and others are not. Political dispositions, or "constructs," also play a role in the way wars are fought, and laws are made. Gillard's book to be published after 2003, Why Guarantee Poland? explores the decision of Britain's Prime Minister in World War II: if Germany attacked Poland, Britain would go to Poland's aid. The controversial matter has long been a subject for discussion of those early war years. Hitler quickly invaded Poland before Britain was ready to join the war—though join the war they did—so such a decision was moot. It was Gillard's opinion that if any approach to understanding international history is valid, it is the theory of personal constructs. Such a notion opens up another possible venue for the future of personal construct psychology. To imagine such a possibility is to imagine that perhaps world diplomacy could be improved through a mutual understanding that leaders would hold for their own constructs as well as those of the others.


Elizabeth F. Loftus

Elizabeth F. Loftus, known as the quintessential experimental psychologist, specialized for two decades in the verbal learning field. As a psychologist, Loftus has also specialized in the areas of cognition, law, learning, memory, and psychological statistics. But she gained her greatest notoriety when she became known for her challenge of repressed memory syndrome. With Katherine Ketcham, Loftus published The Myth of Repressed Memory in 1994. The dedication at the front of her book would have given George Kelly reason to smile. "Dedicated to the principles of science, which demand that any claim to 'truth' be accompanied by proof."

Elizabeth Fishman was born in Los Angeles in 1944. She grew up in the Bel Air section of the city. When she was 14 her mother drowned. By her own admission, that tragic incident had a profound effect on her life. She attended University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and received a B.A. in 1966, intending originally to be a high school math teacher. Once her interest turned to psychology after a class she enjoyed at UCLA, her future path was redefined. She received her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1970. While attending Stanford she met Geoffrey Loftus, whom she married in 1968. It was at Stanford that she first became interested in long-term memory. Both she and her husband received positions at the University of Washington in 1972. They divorced in 1991. Loftus continues to hold an affiliate professorship at the University of Washington, while holding a professorship at the University of California at Irvine. There she is a Distinguished Professor for the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society; and with the Department of Cognitive Sciences. She is also a Fellow of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

In the early 1970s Loftus first began her research in remembering and misremembering of episodes that came from watching "interactions between different kinds of information, e.g., linguistic, memorial and visual." according to the Biographical Dictionary of Psychology. This biography also noted that her research in this field eventually gained her "legendary status," with its research the most heavily cited from any to come from experimental psychology. Her "eyewitness paradigm" presented the eyewitness with photographic slides that chronicled an incident such as an automobile accident. She provided a series of questions about it, some misleading. Her research showed that a "blending" occurs with the eyewitness, and appears to be irreversible. These blendings do not result in false recollection of minor details, she found. What inevitably resulted whether inside or outside the courtroom, was far more dramatic, and could lead to crucial mistakes in determining the truth of an event. Her findings also showed that memory could be manipulated—a damaging trend especially when deciding someone's guilt or innocence.

Her research in memory eventually extended to traumatic events, and those that might include "repressed" memories. Such memories of sexual, physical, or psychological abuse could be enhanced, Loftus found, by various methods, including hypnosis, imagination exercises, and guided visualization—even sodium amytal, or other "truth" serums. Loftus has questioned the value of such questionable memory, especially regarding its acceptability in court.

Even the human relations as demonstrated on the television reality shows of the early twenty-first century might be examined through the lens of constructs, especially when the "survival" of a group member be dependent on an individual's stamina—whether it is winning a spot in a Fortune 500 corporation or winning the heart of an attractive person. Indeed, what these reality shows have to say about people and how they construe their universe could possibly become a whole new area of study by the next decade.

The system offered by Kelly's grid has already proven to be a practical tool for the computer age. The promise of what it could offer to further human understanding of artificial intelligence remains to be seen. All of the advances possible have by no means yet been exhausted.

Each few years new trends reveal the manners and fashion of entire cultures. In 2004, globalization continues to redefine the workplace as well as leisure activities. It thus creates opportunities for study from which personal construct psychology and the self-determination it represents will likely benefit.

An appropriate quote from Kelly offers true light into the future possibilities from his work.

What we know as the body of science, (is) in itself, an amazing display. But this is not the most exciting part of the story that history has to tell us. . . . Infinitely more exciting is what potentiality these audacious feats suggest is locked up in the unrealized future of the [human]. While the [human] of yesterday was developing a physicalistic science that tested itself by experiments and its ability to predict their outcomes, [the human] was, without intending to do so, stating the basic postulates of a psychology for the [human] of tomorrow. Slowly [he] demonstrated not merely that events could be predicted, but, what was vastly more important, that [he] was a predictor. It was not only that hypotheses could be generated, experiments controlled, anticipation checked against realizations, and theories revised, but that [he] [human] was a hypothesizer, an experimenter, an anticipator, a critical observer, and an artful composer of new systems of thought. What [he] did, physically, portrayed what he was psychologically.



American Psychological Society. March 2004.

Atherton, J. S. Learning and Teaching: Personal Construct Psychology. United Kingdom. 2003 [cited March 14, 2004].

Baron, Reuben M., and William G. Graziano, with Charles Stangor. Social Psychology. The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSII), Fort Worth, Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1991.

Boeree, C. George. Personality Theories. e-text, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: Shippensburg University, 1997.

Clinical Psychology and Personality: Selected Papers of George Kelly (published posthumously), edited by B. A. Maher. Wiley, 1969.

Fiske, Susan T. Social Beings: A Core Motives Approach to Social Psychology. 1st ed. New York: Wiley, 2003.

Fransella, Fay. Centre for Personal Construct Psychology. [cited March 3, 2004]

Fransella, Fay, ed. International Handbook of Personal Construct Psychology. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, LTD, 2003.

Kelly, George A. The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Two volumes. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1955.

Kenny, Vincent. "An Introduction to the Personal Construct Psychology of George A. Kelly." Irish Journal of Psychotherapy 3, no. 1 (March 1984).

Krupat, Edward. Psychology is Social, Readings and Conversations in Social Psychology. Harper Collins College Publishers.

Levy-Leboyer, Claude. "Personality: Theories and Applications." Personnel Psychology (book review), 56, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 507.

Loftus, Elizabeth, and Katherine Ketcham. The Myth of Repressed Memory. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

Shaw, Mildred L. G., and Brian R. Gaines. "Kelly's 'Geometry of Psychological Space,' and its Significance for Cognitive Modeling." The New Psychologist October 1992, 23–31.

Sheehy, Noel, Antony J. Chapman, and Wendy A. Conroy, editor. Biographical Dictionary of Psychology. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

Warren, Bill. "The problem of religion for constructivist psychology." Journal of Psychology 127, no. 5 (Sept. 1993): 481.

Further readings

Neimark, Jill. "The diva of disclosure, memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus." Psychology Today January 1996.

Peplau, Letitia Anne, David O. Sears, Shelley E. Taylor, and Jonathan L. Freedman. Readings in Social Psychology, Classic and Contemporary Contributions. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988.

The Personal Construct Psychology Information Centre, Hamburg, Germany. Personal Construct Psychology Information Centre. March 2004.

Westmeyer, Hans. "On the constructive alternativism of George A. Kelly." PSYCHOLOGISCHE BEITRÄGE 3, no. 44, 2002.

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George Alexander Kelly

American psychologist best known for developing the psychology of personal constructs.

George Alexander Kelly, originator of personal construct theory of personality , was born on farm near Perth Kansas. He was the only child of Elfleda Merriam Kelly and Theodore Vincent Kelly. Kelly's father trained for the Presbyterian ministry but gave that up and moved to the farm soon after wedding Kelly's mother. When Kelly was four, his family moved to Eastern Colorado to make a claim on land given to settlers for free by the U. S. government. Because no water could be located beneath the land, the family moved back to the Kansas farm.

Kelly's early schooling was, by his own words, "rather irregular." He attended various grade schools and was also schooled at home, an obligation his parents took seriously as they were themselves relatively well educated. After age 13 he was sent away to school and attended four different high schools. When he was 16 he transferred to Friends University academy in Wichita, Kansas. There he took a mix of college and academy courses. He then transferred to Park College, Missouri, where he graduated in 1926 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics. During these years he became involved in his college debate team, and was seen as an excellent speaker.

He had planned on going into engineering after college, but his success at debating, and the fact that it provoked his interest in social issues, made him wonder about the real value of an engineering career. Thus, the following fall he entered the educational sociology program of the University of Kansas with minors in sociology and labor relations. In the fall of 1927, with his master's thesis (a study of how Kansas City workers distributed their leisure time activities) incomplete, he moved to Minneapolis. He had sent out many applications for teaching jobs with no success. There he taught three nights a week, one night each for three different schools. He enrolled in the University of Minnesota in biometrics and sociology but was forced to leave after a few weeks, when the school found out he had to been able to pay his fees. He finished his master's thesis in 1927.

In the winter of 1927 Kelly got a job at Sheldon Junior College in Sheldon, Iowa, teaching psychology and speech, and coaching drama. He spent one and a half years there. He then spent a summer at the University of Minnesota, and some months in Wichita, Kansas as an aeronautical engineer for an aircraft company. He then went to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland as an exchange student, where he received his Bachelor's in Education in 1930. He then enrolled in the University of Iowa and received his Ph.D. in psychology in 1931. His doctoral dissertation was on common factors in reading and speech disabilities.

He married Gladys Thompson just two days after attaining his Ph.D. In 1931, Kelly accepted a faculty position at Fort Hays Kansas State College (now called Fort Hays State University) where he was to remain for 12 years. He had wanted to pursue work in physiological psychology but found little opportunity to do so. So he turned his attention to an area he felt needed some workproviding clinical psychological services to adults and school-aged children on the university's campus. These services included counseling (vocational and academic), academic skill development, psychotherapy , and speech therapy.

Eventually, there was a demand for these services beyond campus, and Kelly developed a program for a clinic that traveled to schools in rural Kansas, there providing diagnostic formulations and treatment recommendations for students, typically twelve per day. At this time the United States was in the grips of a severe economic depression and the Midwest had experienced a major drought. Economic devastation was commonplace and many families were distressed. Kelly and his crew of four to five undergraduate and graduate students found people who had serious problems in their daily living. The need for these services was so strong and publicly recognized that the state legislature funded the traveling clinic directly through a legislative act.

He found that Freudian approaches to psychological problems worked to help some of the people he saw, but that his own formulations also worked if they were relevant to the person's problem and provided the person with a different way of looking at the problem. In these constructions one can see the seeds of Kelly's constructive alternativism. In his view, different people have alternative ways of looking at the world, and each view can capture some element of truth. None are right or wrong, all views are constructed by the individuals and reflect reality for them. In a way, people construct their own reality.

Shortly after World War II started, Kelly entered the U. S. Navy in the aviation psychology division, where he and fellow psychologists worked on ways of choosing the best naval air cadets. After the war ended Kelly taught at the University of Maryland for a year before being appointed a professorship at Ohio State University in 1945. In 1946 he became director of the clinical psychology program where he remained until 1965. Kelly served as president of both the Consulting (1954-1955) and Clinical (1956-1957) divisions of the American Psychological Association. In 1965 he took the position of Distinguished Professorial Chair in Theoretical Psychology at Brandeis University, which he held until his sudden death in 1967.

Kelly's personal construct theory of personality is perhaps his most significant contribution to psychology. It is a broad theory based on the idea that people are like scientists who go around testing personal theories, or personal constructs, about the world and how it works, and about themselves. Behavior is seen as an experiment. Individuals use these constructs in an attempt to anticipate events and exert control over their lives. He believed that people tend to have certain main personal constructs about large areas of life that guide their behavior. These constructs or concepts can be revised in the face of conflicting information, or they can become stable and internalized as basic personality tendencies. Kelly laid out the theory in his 1955 two-volume book entitled The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Kelly also developed the Role Construct Repertory Test, a method of assessing how an individual sees his or her world or personal-role constructs. In addition, Kelly experimented with fixed-role therapy, in which a client would "try on" various roles.

Personal construct theory was internationally recognized as a unique theoretical contribution to psychology. Indeed, his work has enjoyed more popularity in Britain than anywhere else. Hundreds of scholarly papers have been published that have personal constructs as their theme. Personal construct methods and ideas have been used to study numerous and varied topics, such as relationship development and breakdown, vocational decision making, psychopathology, education, and cognitive complexity. Since his death in 1967, interest in Kelly's work has grown, and its influence has become even stronger. Since 1975, biennial International Congresses on Personal Construct Psychology have been held, and on alternate years regional conferences are held. The International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology was founded in 1988, changing its title and focus in 1994 to the Journal of Constructivist Psychology.

Marie Doorey

Further Reading

Fransella, Fay. George Kelly London: Sage Publications, 1995.

Kelly, George A. The Psychology of Personal Constructs. London: Routledge, 1991 (originally published in 1955).

Neimeyer, Robert A. "Kelly, George Alexander," In 2000 Encyclopedia of Psychology, V.4. Alan E. Kazdin, ed. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association & New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2000.

Peyser, C.S. "Kelly, George A." In Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd Ed., V. 4. R.J. Corsini, Editor. NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.

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Kelly, George Alexander (1905–66) An American psychologist who pioneered personal construct theory and the ‘role construct repertory test’. Kelly argued, in The Psychology of Personal Constructs (1955), that ‘a person's processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events’. Such constructs are the central subject of psychology. See also COGNITIVE THEORY.