personal construct theory

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personal construct theory A social psychological theory developed by George Alexander Kelly in The Psychology of Personal Constructs (1955), which argues that ‘a person's processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events’. Like phenomenology, social constructionism and symbolic interactionism, the theory therefore examines the ways in which people construct meanings. In this case, the orientation is to the future, the argument being that a person's personal constructs (the distinctive categories by which he or she orders close interpersonal relationships or role-constructs) are an anticipation of future events in terms of similar events experienced in the past. Kelly devised the ‘repertory grid technique’ (the generalized form of an earlier ‘role-construct repertory test’) as a way of revealing these personal constructs to the researcher. Subjects are asked to distinguish triads of people known to them into a series of similar pairs and different individuals, and to explain their selections, in this way building up a series of binary distinctions unique to the respondent, and by means of which he or she is said to anticipate events. The structure of categories that is then mathematically derived from these distinctions is said to correspond to the structure of the psychological space utilized by the individual at a particular point in time. The technique was originally applied to the detection of mental disorder but has since been used more widely.