Professor JNR Jeffers
D.Sc. (Lancaster), CStat, CIBiol, FIBiol, CIFor

Construct Analysis

Creative use of information can be greatly increased through understanding of the basic thought processes used by individuals, and especially by oneself. G.A. Kelly, in his development of personal construct psychology, characterised each human being as a personal scientist, classifying, categorising and theorising about the world, anticipating on the basis of his theories, an acting on the basis of that anticipation. Kelly's fundamental postulate is that a person's thought processes are directed by the ways in which he anticipates events, and are dependent on each individual's knowledge and experience. Each person constructs his own version of reality, using a hierarchical system or lattice of personal constructs.

Kelly further defined constructs as bipolar dimensions which to some degree are attributes or properties of our experience. Within this definition, a construct is a way in which some things (people, objects, processes, experiences, elements) are seen as alike and yet different from others. A construct, therefore, is a feature of the nature of things, an inherent categorisation of reality. Given an appropriate set of elements, the mapping of the elements on to the constructs produces a two-dimensional grid of relationships which helps to clarify the underlying thought processes. A repertory grid technique enables the constructs to be elicited from individuals, identified and cross-correlated.

Mildred Shaw later developed the repertory grid technique through the interactive use of computer programs that elicit the constructs used by individuals or groups of individuals, and then map the elements on to the constructs. Additional programs facilitate the comparison of the constructs used by several, or even many, different participants, and the identification of the concepts which the individuals or groups share, even if they use different words to describe those concepts. These programs also identify concepts which are not shared and which therefore contribute to unreconcilable differences or arguments. Shaw's computer programs are often a revelation to individuals using them for the first time, as they feel ideas they did not know they had being drawn out of their heads and revealed.

Construct analysis is an extremely powerful technique for improving the communication between individuals engaged in some joint enterprise, particularly if those individuals have been trained in different environments or scientific disciplines. When used by individuals, construct analysis enables the user to form a mental model of any topic in his own terms, discover hidden aspects of himself and his personality, and find new ways of tacking and solving immediate problems. In education and training, construct analysis helps the learner to widen his range and selection of appropriate constructs by comparing his initial constructs with those provided by experts in the field concerned.

Although, construct analysis has been used quite widely in clinical and industrial psychology, it is a surprisingly neglected technique in scientific research generally, and, more particularly, in education. With the ready availability of personal computers, anyone can explore and develop the concepts which they use to anticipate events and make decisions, and as a basis for self-organised learning.

<-- Thinking
Workshops -->