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Social Sci LibreTexts

19.1: Chapter Introduction

  • Page ID
    17648
  • George Kelly’s personal construct theory goes beyond the cognitive elements addressed by social learning theorists and provides a full-fledged cognitive theory. Kelly believed that individuals act very much like scientists studying personality: they create constructs, or expectations about the environment and people around them, and then they behave in ways that “test” those beliefs and expectations. For Kelly, the personal constructs are more important than actual reality, since it is the construct that guides cognition and behavior, not the actual situation. His theory was unique, and quite unrelated to others that came before and after. This was, in part, Kelly’s very intention:

    It is only fair to warn the reader about what may be in store…the term learning, so honorably embedded in most psychological texts, scarcely appears at all. That is wholly intentional; we are for throwing it overboard altogether. There is no ego, no emotion, no motivation, no reinforcement, no drive, no unconscious, no need…all this will make for periods of strange, and perhaps uncomfortable, reading. Yet, inevitably, a different approach calls for a different lexicon... (pg. x; Kelly, 1955a)

    Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck are best known for developing therapeutic techniques that are based on a cognitive perspective of personality and behavior. Although they are not known for developing actual theories of personality, their clinical approaches are based on underlying theoretical perspectives, which shed light on how they view the nature of personality. Thus, their influential work is naturally connected to that of Kelly, whose theory of personality was entirely cognitive (as compared to the cognitive social learning theorists Bandura, Rotter, and Mischel). More recently, there have been cognitive approaches to therapy put forth that are connected to much older approaches to human understanding. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) takes an experiential approach to changing behavior that shares many similarities to Buddhist approaches (Hayes & Smith, 2005; Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999), whereas Radical Acceptance relies directly on Buddhist teachings to encourage people to embrace their own lives (Brach, 2003).