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Hierarchical construing  
Kelly introduced this notion when he stated  that "...constructs may be used as viewpoints for seeing other constructs as in the hierarchical relationships of constructs within a system. In that sense, superordinate constructs are versions of those constructs which are subordinate to them." (p.136) . Kelly provides an example of this with a 16-point scale (a hierarchical scale) for a superordinate construct derived from four increasingly subordinate dichotomous constructs.

The notion of hierarchical construing was taken up most comprehensively by Hinkle (1965). Hinkle’s work was not published directly but was treated extensively by Bannister and Mair (1968, pp. 78-96). This account has formed the basis of most subsequent evaluations of this work. It was first formally evaluated by ten Kate (1981) who raised an important issue with respect to the notion of implication. Does imply represent superordinate --> subordinate or does it represent subordinate
--> superordinate? Or to reverse the question; which is the more superordinate construct: the predictor or predicted? In Hinkle’s procedure, the superordinate construct is the one predicted while in another scheme (Hays,1958), the predicting construct (in his terms, trait) is the more important. Caputi, Breiger and Pattison (1990) have also drawn attention to this contradiction. While hierarchical relationships are most closely associated with the techniques devised by Hinkle to elicit them, laddering and implications grids, these can also be detected in repertory grids as shown for example by Shaw and Gaines (1981) and Smithson (1987)


  • Bannister,  D., and Mair, J. M. M. (1968) The evaluation of personal constructs. London: Academic Press
  • Caputi, P., Breiger, R., and Pattison, P. (1990) Analyzing implications grids using hierarchical models. International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 3, 77-90.
  • Hays, W.L. (1958) An approach to the study of trait implication and trait similarity. In R. Tagiuri and L. Petrullo (Eds.)  Person perception and interpersonal behavior. (pp. 289-299) Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Hinkle, D.N. (1965)  The change of personal constructs from the viewpoint of a theory of construct implications. Unpublished PhD thesis, Ohio State University.
  • Ryle, A. (1975) Frames and cages: The repertory grid approach to human understanding. Brighton, UK: Sussex University Press
  • Shaw, M.L.G, and Gaines, B.R. (1981) Recent advances in the analysis of a repertory grid. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 54, 307-318.
  • Smithson, M. (1987) Fuzzy set analysis for behavioral and social sciences. New York: Springer-Verlag.
  •  Ten Kate, H. (1981) A theoretical explanation of Hinkle’s implication theory. In H. Bonarius, R. Holland, and S. Rosenberg (Eds.) Personal Construct Psychology. (pp. 167-175) London: MacMillan.

Richard C. Bell

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004