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Kelly (1955) defined constriction in terms of the process of reducing one’s perceptual field, thereby limiting what is construed. He contrasted it with dilation, which is the expansion of the perceptual field. However constriction could also be compared to preemption, the latter involving a reduction in construing to only one way of viewing something. Constriction refers to what we make sense of (elements) while preemption refers to the curtailment of what we use to make sense of things (constructs).

Kelly regarded constriction as of importance clinically. He considered it to be one of the important diagnostic dimensions that personal construct clinicians might use for assessment. He argued that individuals used constriction to limit anxiety, reducing the world that they found overwhelming to something manageable. He observed it to be of particular importance in depression, a position that others have elaborated (e.g. Neimeyer, 1985; Rowe, 1987). Indeed he referred to some suicides as "the ultimate constriction" (Kelly, 1961). 
There have been a number of attempts to measure constriction, predominantly using repertory grids. Measures used include cognitive complexity (e.g. Space & Cromwell, 1980), low levels of construct conflict (e.g. Sheehan, 1985), over-use of particular ratings such as the midpoint of the rating scale (e.g. Neimeyer, Heath & Strauss, 1985) and concrete construing (e.g. Landfield, 1976). But it should be noted that these measures focus on construing, not the perceptual field that is central to constriction. 
Winter has used measures that are more closely aligned with Kelly’s definition, focusing on elements. Exploring the use of midpoint ratings on the element Future Self with people who self-harm, Winter, Bhandari, Metcalfe, Riley, Sireling, Watson & Lutwyche (2000) have found higher levels of hopelessness and suicidal ideation associated with a more constricted (high midpoint) usage. Winter & Gournay (1987), while formulating an account of agoraphobia, used the degree of differentiation between elements by constructs as a measure of degree of constriction. They found that constructs concerning tenderness and interpersonal conflict did not readily differentiate between elements, suggesting that the area of interpersonal conflict was largely outside the range of convenience of the construing systems of agoraphobics. 
There have been attempts to assess constriction that are not based on repertory grids, including use of questionnaires (Chambers, 1987) and photography (Bailey & Walker, 2003).  


  • Bailey, A. & Walker B.M. (2003). Using psychophotography as a non-verbal measure of constriction. In G. Chiari & M-L. Nuzzo (Eds.) Psychological constructivism and the social world. Milano: FrancoAngeli, pp. 306-317.
  • Chambers, W.V. (1987). Personality and personal construct constriction: a secondary analysis. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 2, 153-60.
  • Kelly, G. A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. New York: Norton.
  • Kelly, G. A. (1961). Theory and therapy in suicide: the personal construct point of view. In M. Farberow & E. Shneidman (Eds.) The cry for help. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Landfield, A.W. (1976). A personal construct approach to suicidal behaviour. In P. Slater (ed.), The measurement of intrapersonal space by grid technique. Vol. 1. London: Wiley.
  • Neimeyer, R. (1985). Personal Constructs in depression: research and clinical implications. In E. Button (Ed), Personal construct theory and mental health (pp.82-101). Kent: Croom Helm Ltd.
  • Neimeyer, R.A., Heath, A.E., and Strauss, J. (1985). Personal reconstruction during group cognitive therapy for depression. In F. Epting and A.W. Landfield (eds.), Anticipating personal construct psychology. (pp. 180-197). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Ross, M.V. (1985). Depression, self-concept, and personal constructs. In F. Epting, & A.W. Landfield (Eds.), Anticipating personal construct psychology (pp. 155-69). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Rowe, D. (1987). Beyond Fear. London: Fontana Paperbacks.
  • Space, L.G., & Cromwell, R.L. (1980). Personal constructs among depressed patients. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 168, 150-58.
  • Sheehan, M. J. (1981). Constructs and ‘conflict’ in depression. British Journal of Psychology, 72, 197-209.
  • Sheehan, M.J. (1985). A personal construct study of depression. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 58, 119-28.
  • Winter, D.A., Bhandari, S., Lutwyche, G., Metcalfe, C., Riley, T., Sireling, L., and Watson, S. (2000). Deliberate and undeliberated self harm: theoretical basis and evaluation of a personal construct psychotherapy intervention. In J.W. Scheer (ed.), The Person in Society: Challenges to a Constructivist Theory. Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag (pp. 351-361).
  • Winter, D. and Gournay, K. (1987), Construction and constriction in agoraphobia. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 60, 233-44.

Beverly M. Walker

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004