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Extension and definition
Kelly proposed that the elaborative choice maybe one of extending or defining the construct system – or indeed both. Extending the construct system means increasing its range of conveniences and hence making more of life’s experiences meaningful. There is a valorisation of adventure generally in Kelly’s writing, and extension is clearly essential to the person’s successful adaptation to the world of events. But he also recognised that elaboration might involve definition – making the construct system more explicit and clear cut. In Kelly’s view, most problems of elaboration seem to be due to over-definition (see Butt, 1998), and Kelly likened definition to constriction , a strategy he associated with defence against anxiety. Nevertheless, definition, like tightening may be seen as a cyclic process that balances the possibility of over-extension. Bannister used to draw on a military metaphor to explain their relationship: an army that just digs in will win no victories, but an army that out-runs its supply lines will soon encounter disaster. From his point of view, extension and definition together balance movement with consolidation. The more of life’s experience that one can construe, the more meaningful it becomes. But anxiety occurs at the fringes of our construction, and hence the need for definition and constriction.

So extension and definition in some ways resemble other pairs of concepts in PCP: dilation and constriction, loosening and tightening (the creativity cycle ), circumspection and pre-emption (the CPC cycle). Extension, dilation, loosening and circumspection all imply a broadening of perspective, while definition, constriction, tightening and pre-emption all imply a narrowing or concentration. But elaboration through extension and definition need not be cyclic; both can be seen in the same activity. The person ‘as a form of motion’ is always engaged in some activity, and Kelly recommended understanding people’s spontaneous activities – interests and hobbies - in order to appreciate how and where their systems of construction work most effectively. People "hoose what events to elaborate upon because they appear amenable to treatment" (Kelly, 1955, p. 735). He used the example of someone listening to sports broadcasts to illustrate his point. Here is a framework that is defining enough to be comfortable, while exciting and extending enough to provide surprise novelty and interest.



  • Butt, T. (1998) Sedimentation and elaborative choice. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 11, (4) 265-281
  • Kelly, G.A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. (2 volumes) New York: Norton.

Trevor Butt

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004