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What are the constructs in the world of Psychology?

What are the constructs in the world of Psychology?

July 19, 2024

In psychology, a "construct" is the term and definition that is attributed to a phenomenon that despite not having an empirical reality constitutes itself as an object of study. The constructs serve to communicate, know and manipulate phenomena that we can hardly define, precisely because they are not concrete objects. They shape a large part of psychology and as such, have determined much of our individual perception of everything that surrounds us.

Here is a definition of the construct in psychology and we will review the applications he has had in clinical psychology, specifically from the Theory of Personal Construct.

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What is a construct?

As it happens in the scientific disciplines, psychology has generated a series of very important knowledge to understand our relationship with the world. It is often about abstract knowledge about objects that, despite not having an empirical reality, constitute a great part of psychological knowledge, both specialized and colloquial.

This is why, in order to legitimize itself as a practice that seeks both to generate knowledge and to administer that over which it generates knowledge (as a science), psychology has had to create a series of concepts that make the reality that it studies intelligible.

In other words, like many of the objects of study of psychology are not empirical elements (concrete, material, visible elements, for example, intelligence, conscience, personality), the same discipline has had to generate a series of concepts that can represent what it studies.

These concepts are known as constructs, and precisely they are entities whose existence is not uniform or precise, but in any way they try to study to satisfy needs related to a specific society.

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Some background and examples in psychology

In the 70s, within the social sciences, began to discuss the origins and effects of scientific knowledge. Among other things, it was concluded that any science is the product of a specific time and place.

As Berger and Luckmann (1979) would say, belief systems are the product of a social construction . This questioning along with these proposals also generated a debate on the constructs that psychology has generated in the framework of scientific development.

In fact, much of the research in psychology has focused on the validation of psychological constructs. That means that a series of studies and it seeks to follow parameters and criteria that generate reliable concepts to talk about phenomena that we hardly observe. For example, when different responses are measured in relation to different reaction times, which is translated into the intelligence or intelligence quotient construct.

Theory of the Personal Construct of George Kelly

The American psychologist George A. Kelly (1905-1966) developed a theory called Theory of Personal Construct. Through this theory, Kelly proposed that the constructs may have therapeutic effects , with which, he suggested a way to apply them in clinical psychology.

According to Kelly, the terms we use to refer to things, or to ourselves, reflect how we perceive those things. From there, what Kelly said was that the words by which we interpret a phenomenon, do not necessarily describe that phenomenon, but rather reflect our perceptions about it.

Thus, for example, if a teacher talks about a child as "lazy", that is mainly a reflection of the personal perceptions of the teacher, but it also has consequences for the child himself. This is because it is put in a certain place (inactivity, laziness), which, the expectations and demands of the teacher are appropriate to that perception, and the child's behaviors as well.

Kelly believed that it was possible to reconstruct, that is, to use new constructs to refer to the same phenomena, and in this way, generate and share new possibilities of action . In the case of the lazy child, for example, I would recommend replacing the "lazy" construct with one that would allow the child more freedom.

The psychologist recommended to think of us as if we were scientists, that is, as constructors of concepts that allow us to relate in one way or another to the world and to each other . As if we could formulate different theories permanently and put them to the test.

The latter I apply in the clinical field as a way to facilitate that the people who attended, are related in different ways (through different constructs) with what they perceived as a problem.

Reviews of Kelly to traditional science

This is how Kelly challenged scientific objectivism and the idea of ​​"objective reality", proposing that more than objective realities, there is a set of beliefs and fictions, with which, and if necessary, new beliefs and new fictions can be generated.

This modification is important because it implies a qualitative change in the system of relationships where the person registers. Thus, what Kelly recovers are the personal meanings and, far from seeking to homogenize them, it works them and opens the possibility of transformation.

In order to do this, Kelly differentiated between different types and functions of the constructs , as well as the different variables that participate so that a construct is considered valid, or not, or so that they form different systems. Also, in his theory discusses the permeability of the constructs, that is, how much can be applied or modified and in what circumstances.

Bibliographic references:

  • Berger and Luckmann (1979). The social construction of reality. Amorrortu: Buenos Aires.
  • Botella, L. and Feixas, G. (1998). Theory of personal constructs. Applications to psychological practice. [Electronic version]. Retrieved June 4, 2018. Available at //

Psychological Research - Crash Course Psychology #2 (July 2024).

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