Personal Construct Theory: George Kelly

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

People who spend much time outside often find themselves looking at the clouds. Children, too, look at clouds and determine what a particular cloud looks like. While one may see a rabbit, the other may see a car. Similarly, when someone sees a large black dog, they may pet them. On the other hand, others may be scared of it and maintain their distance.

What does the Personal Construct Theory Define?

The personal Construct Theory states that individuals develop their ideas and rules to interpret things and events around them. Given in the 1950s by George Kelly, an American psychologist, this theory views people as scientists. Like scientists, every person observes their environment, understands the events, and draws conclusions. Thus, they formulate hypotheses about how the world works and test them daily. This is why people who may be experiencing the same thing perceive it differently.

What are Constructs?

When people use their experiences and perceptions to conclude something, they use what is known as 'constructs.' We behave following the expectation that our constructs will predict and explain the reality of our world. These are used to test the hypotheses that individuals develop. Constructs are constantly evaluated and modified as we go through life experiencing new things.

The structure of Personal Construct Theory

Kelly organized his theory very systematically. There is one basic postulate which is further explained in 11 corollaries.

The Basic Postulate

The basic postulate says, "A person's processes are psychologically channelized by how he anticipates events." This means that humans build a construct based on how they perceive or construe an event, and this construct is used in the future to verify if that prediction was true or not. Hence, the postulate reaffirms the idea of humans acting like scientists by developing and testing hypotheses.

The 11 Corollaries

The corollaries, as suggested by Kelly, expand on the primary postulate.

  • Construction Corollary − No event or experience can happen again exactly as it did, but an event can still be repeated with some changes. We predict how we will behave in a similar event based on these similarities.
  • Individuality Corollary − People differ from each other in their constructions of events. Each person is unique and has unique experiences and perceptions, and hence, their constructs are different.
  • Organization Corollary − We arrange our constructs in patterns and how they relate to each other. We consider their similarities as well as their differences. We organize these constructs in a hierarchy, with some constructs subordinate to others. A construct can include one or more subordinate constructs.
  • Dichotomy Corollary − A person's construction system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs. The constructs we store are bipolar or dichotomous. For example, if there is a construct of 'kindness,' there will also be a construct of 'unkindness.' This is important for us to anticipate future events correctly. Just as we note similarities among people or events, we must also account for dissimilarities.
  • Choice Corollary − A person chooses for himself that alternative in a dichotomized construct through which he anticipates the greater possibility for the elaboration of his system. This construct explains that people choose the alternative construct that helps them expand on their experiences.
  • Range Corollary − A construct is applicable for anticipating only a finite range of events, and a construct may have a great range or a very short range. This means that our constructs can apply to a wide set of objects or very narrow objects.
  • Experience Corollary − We modify or reconstruct our constructs as we experience things we did not expect. If we observe that a construct does not predict the outcome of a situation correctly, then it must be reformulated or replaced.
  • Modulation Corollary − Constructs differ based on their permeability. A permeable construct will be one in which newer and bigger ideas can be included after the construct has been made. A permeable construct is open to new experiences and is capable of being revised or extended by them.
  • Fragmentation Corollary − A person may have a variety of construction subsystems that are incompatible with each other.
  • Commonality Corollary − Kelly suggested that if a group of people interprets an experience similarly, we can conclude that their cognitive processes are similar. This can be true when it comes to cultural experiences.
  • Sociality Corollary − This talks about how commonalities do not necessarily bring out positive relationships. To have positive relations, people must understand each other's constructs. We must understand how another person thinks if we are to anticipate how that person will predict events.


The Personal Construct Theory is very significant in cognitive psychology and personality psychology. While it introduced many new concepts and terms, it has also been criticized. Despite the criticism, the theory left its mark shortly after its conception.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47