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The Choice Corollary
A person chooses for him- or her self that alternative in a dichotomized construct through which he or she anticipates the greater possibility for extension and definition of his or her system.

This corollary replaces the concept of motivation in PCP. In orthodox psychology there is an assumption of Cartesian dualism: it is assumed that a person is constituted by a mind (or set of personal cognitions) inside a body. There is then a problem of how mind, or psychological states, ‘kick-start’ the body into action. The person is seen as normally at rest and inert. Theories of motivation were designed to deal with this issue, and deal with factors that are said to energize and direct behaviour. Kelly however, saw the person "as a form of motion" (1955, p. 48) and claimed that PCP was a thoroughgoing dynamic theory in that it "does not need any special system of dynamics to keep it running" (1969, p. 89). By this he meant that people are always doing something. He used the example of a child labelled lazy by a teacher to point out that the child cannot be doing nothing. It might be doing something other than is required, or it might be apparently doing nothing so as to annoy the teacher. But its actions are always intentional and directed towards some end or other:

The being we start with is already alive and kicking – we do not have to invent anything to “motivate” him! When we describe his “interests” we are calling attention to the directions his activities take, rather than the amount of pressure behind them. (Kelly, 1955, p. 732)

So PCP does not need a theory of motivation to explain the energizing of behaviour. But the direction of behaviour still needs explanation. We might still want to know why a person does one thing rather than another, or acts in a puzzling way. Such questions are certainly likely to arise in psychotherapy, the focus of convenience of PCP. Here people are often a puzzle to themselves, ‘finding themselves’ engaged in some form of self-destructive pattern of behaviour. And in everyday life we often wonder why we over-eat, get into pointless arguments and don’t get down to our work. The Fundamental Postulate of PCP proposes that human projects are not driven by hedonism; life is not a simple matter of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Instead, our action is in the service of anticipation . This should not be taken to be the equivalent of prediction, the cognitive component of anticipation. If prediction were the only goal, Kelly pointed out that "man would delight in the ticking of a clock". Anticipation includes how we act with regard to the world; what Don Bannister referred to as "beating the world to the punch". Kelly argued that we literally live in anticipation and we do this in the only way we can - through the use of the construct systems that we have developed. So constructs are not just cognitive entities, but routes that channelize our action.

The Choice Corollary proposes that we draw on our dichotomized constructs to take one course of action over another. The first point to emphasize is that choice here is not to be seen as a conscious and deliberate choosing of one line of action over another. The construing is likely to be unarticulated and pre-verbal . It is also frequently between two unattractive alternatives - a dilemma . A second point is that individuals do not choose between logical alternatives, but between the alternatives that they see as open to them. So a therapist might see arguing with others as appropriately assertive, but this will be no use at all if the client sees it as unforgivably aggressive (Winter, 1987; Butt & Bannister, 1987). The client might choose to be miserable and submissive rather than uncomfortable with a new aggressive course of action. In all cases, people make what Kelly termed "the elaborative choice": that which gives them a better position from which to anticipate future events.


  • Butt, T. (1998) Sedimentation and elaborative choice. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 11, (4) 265-281
  • Butt, T. & Bannister, D. (1987). Better the devil you know. In W. Dryden (Ed.), Key cases in psychotherapy (pp. 127-147). London: CroomHelm.
  • Kelly, G.A. (1969). Ontological acceleration. In B. Maher (Ed.), Clinical psychology and personality: the selected papers of George Kelly (pp. 7-45) London: Wiley.
  • Kelly, G.A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. (2 volumes) New York: Norton.
  • Winter, D. (1987) Personal construct psychotherapy as a radical alternative to social skills training. In R. A. Neimeyer & G. J. Neimeyer (Eds), Personal construct therapy casebook. New York: Springer

Trevor Butt

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004