Personal Construct Theory

THE CASE OF JIM Rep Test: Personal Construct Theory

Jim took the group form of Kelly’s Rep test separately from the other tests (Figure 11.2). Here we have a test that is structured in terms of the roles given to the subject and the task of formulating a similarity/ contrast construct. However, the subject is given total freedom in the content of the construct formed. As noted previously in this chapter, the Rep test is derived logically from Kelly’s theory of personal constructs. Two major themes appear in these constructs. The first theme is the quality of interpersonal relationships. Basically this involves whether people are warm and giving or cold and narcissistic. This theme is expressed in constructs such as gives love/is self-oriented, sensitive/insensitive, and communicates with others as people/is uninterested in others. A second major theme concerns security and is expressed in constructs such as hung up/healthy, unsure/self-confident, and satisfied with life/unhappy. The frequency with which constructs relevant to these two themes appear suggests that Jim has a relatively constricted view of the world—that is, much of Jim’s understanding of events is in terms of the warm/cold and secure/insecure dimensions.

How do the constructs given relate to specific people? On the sorts that involved himself, Jim used constructs expressing insecurity. Thus, Jim views himself as being like his sister (so hung up that her psychological health is questionable), in contrast to his brother, who is basically healthy and stable. In two other sorts of constructs, he sees himself as lacking self-confidence and social poise. These ways of construing himself contrast with those involving his father. His father is construed as being introverted and retiring but also as self-sufficient, open-minded, outstanding, and successful.

The constructs used in relation to Jim’s mother are interesting and again suggest conflict. On the one hand, his mother is construed to be outgoing, gregarious, and loving; on the other, she is construed to be mundane, predictable, close-minded, and conservative. The closeminded, conservative construct is particularly interesting since, in that sort, Jim’s mother is paired with the person with whom he feels most uncomfortable. Thus, the mother and the person with whom he feels most uncomfortable are contrasted with his father, who is construed to be open-minded and liberal. The combination of sorts for all persons suggests that Jim’s ideal person is someone who is warm, sensitive, secure, intelligent, open-minded, and successful. The women in his life— his mother, sister, girlfriend, and previous girlfriend—are construed as having some of these characteristics but also as missing others.

Comments on the Data

The Rep test gives us valuable data about how Jim construes his environment. Jim’s world tends to be perceived in terms of two major constructs: warm interpersonal/cold interpersonal relationships and secure, confident/insecure, unhappy people. Through the Rep test we gain an understanding of why Jim is so limited in his relationships to others and why he has so much difficulty in being creative. His restriction to only two constructs hardly leaves him free to relate to people as individuals and instead forces him to perceive people and problems in stereotyped or conventional ways. A world filled with so little perceived diversity can hardly be exciting, and the constant threat of insensitivity and rejection can be expected to fill Jim with a sense of gloom.

The data from the Rep test, like Kelly’s theory, are tantalizing. What is there seems so clear and valuable, but one is left wondering about what is missing. There is a sense of the skeleton for the structure of personality, but one is left with only the bones. Jim’s ways of construing himself and his environment are an important part of his personality. Assessing his constructs and his construct system helps us to understand how he interprets events and how he is led to predict the future. But where is the flesh on the bones—the sense of an individual who cannot be what he feels, the person struggling to be warm amid feelings of hostility and struggling to relate to women although confused about his feelings toward them?

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