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The theory of the personal constructs of George Kelly

The theory of the personal constructs of George Kelly

March 14, 2023

The theory of the personal constructs of George Kelly He was ahead of his time in describing the human personality in a way similar to the constructivist models that have become popular in recent decades.

In this sense Kelly's work can not be framed strictly within the cognitive orientation, dominant at the time.

  • Related article: "Differences between personality, temperament and character"

The theory of Kelly's personal constructs

The psychologist and educator George Alexander Kelly (1905-1967) raised his personality model in his two fundamental works: "Theory of personal constructs", published in 1955, and "Theory of personality", 1966.


Similar to factorial or trait personality models (for example, Raymond B. Cattell or Costa and McCrae's Big Five), Kelly proposes the use of qualifying adjectives to explain personality. However, in this case the important thing is the way in which each individual constructs and gives meaning to words in question.

Kelly conceives of the human being as a scientist who constructs and modifies with experience a set of knowledge and hypotheses, or his vital philosophy, in order to anticipate the results of his behavior and other events. This takes place through the formation of personal constructs, descriptive categories that we use to conceptualize events.


The personal constructs are dichotomous and bipolar ; This means that we understand personality and human experience in general from adjectives with opposite poles. Some examples of personal constructs would be the dichotomies happy-sad, intelligent-foolish and high-low. The constructs are not always bipolar, as we will see later.

This author considered that his perspective can be considered as "constructive alternativism". By this I meant that, when studying human personality and thinking, it is convenient to focus on the relevance of an interpretation of reality for a specific person rather than on their degree of truthfulness in comparison with objective facts.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Gordon Allport's personality theory"

The eleven corollaries of this theory

The fundamental postulate of Kelly's theory states that all the psychological processes of an individual depend on how he anticipates the events . From this core idea, eleven corollaries are derived, which are very useful to understand how personal constructs work and how personality develops according to this author.


1. Construction

Human beings use abstract thinking to construct mental models of reality and predict events with them. A) Yes, from past events we anticipate those of the future .

2. Individuality

The psychological differences between people depend on the degree of similarity between their systems of constructs, that is, between their respective ways of mentally constructing reality, since they are the ones that determine behavior and mental contents.

3. Organization

The systems of personal constructs they are organized hierarchically according to their scope of application . This allows to avoid contradictions when predicting through different constructs, since there will always be one that has a greater weight.

4. Dichotomy

As we said, according to Kelly, people conceptualize reality from opposite pairs of terms , like "cold-heat" or "nervous-quiet". When only one of the poles is known, we say that it is a submerged construct.

5. Choice

The systems of extensive constructs allow to predict many events but the risk of error is high; by contrast, those that are more restrictive minimize the probability of failures but anticipate fewer events. People with a more risky nature tend towards extension , and the caution towards the definition.

6. Scope

The corollary of scope or application refers to that each construct is effective to predict a certain range of phenomena. The concept "convenience center" is used to talk about the aspects for which the construct is particularly useful.

7. Experience

Although life experience can modify the system of constructs of a person, this does not happen spontaneously but takes place through the psychological construction we make of the events in question. The susceptibility to change of a particular construct or system of constructs It is a very relevant factor in the personality.

8. Modulation

This postulate talks about the permeability, that is to say, the capacity of a construct to introduce new elements in its field of application and the possibility of modifying the constructs hierarchically superior to it.

9. Fragmentation

Fragmentation is the ability of a system of constructs to include subsystems of which contradictory predictions are extracted without it entailing a disorganization of the whole . This corollary is closely related to that of organization, since fragmentation depends on the hierarchy of constructs.

10. Commonality

A relevant aspect of Kelly's theory is the emphasis that systems of constructs of two people who share the same culture will have a greater likelihood of resembling each other that is not like that Therefore, the same will happen with behavior, values ​​and other psychological processes and mental contents.

11. Sociability

The eleventh and final corollary of the theory of personal constructs states that it is more probable that we understand an individual and that this one we like if we are able to reproduce his system of constructs. This postulate can relate clearly to the concept of empathy, and is influenced by the corollary of communality.


George Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory Presentation (March 2023).


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