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Hinkle's theory of construct implications
To many of those working with personal construct theory, Dennis Hinkle's PhD thesis offered one of the few major elaborations of George Kelly's theory. His 1965 thesis was entitled The Change of Personal Constructs From the Viewpoint of a Theory of Construct Implications. History would have it that one day Hinkle commented to his PhD supervisor that he - George Kelly - had not made clear exactly what a personal construct was, and that Kelly had then suggested he go away and sort that out. And Hinkle did. His PhD consists of his theory of construct implications and the methodologies he devised to test out his theory. The methodologies were the relative resistance to slot change grid; the hierarchical method for the elicitation of superordinate constructs - now called laddering; and the implication grid.
His theory states that all constructs imply other constructs and are also implied by other constructs. He goes on to state that "the construct positions which a given construct implies are called the superordinate implications of that construct; when the polar positions on the given construct are implied by positions on other constructs…….these construct relationships are called subordinate implications of the given construct" (1965, p. 17). Some confusion has arisen over this; several people think it should be the other way round (e.g. ten Kate). Hinkle suggests that the total number of both superordinate and subordinate implications could be used as a measure of the meaningfulness of that construct.
Hinkle takes each of the corollaries of personal construct theory and defines them in terms of implications. For example, the Choice Corollary in Kelly's theory states that: A person chooses for himself that alternative in a dichotomized construct through which he anticipates the greater possibility for extension and definition of his system. Hinkle's theory of implications says that: A person chooses for himself that alternative in a dichotomized construct through which he anticipates the greater possibility for increasing the total number of implications of his system. - "That is to say, a person always chooses in that direction which he anticipates will increase the total meaning and significance of his life. Stated in the defensive form, a person chooses so as to avoid the anxiety of chaos and the despair of absolute certainty" (1965, p. 21). It is this corollary that provides the theoretical basis for Hinkle's dissertation.
From the Choice Corollary Hinkle argued that we will resist changing from one pole of a construct to its opposite pole when that change reduces the number of implications (which he relates to threat) or in the direction of relative absence of implications (which he relates to anxiety). It follows from this that we are more likely to change on constructs that have a similar number of constructs at each pole or where there are relatively few implications for both poles.
One of Hinkle's many contributions was his definition of a personal construct. He pointed out that their meaning often depends on the context within which they are used. For instance, the meaning of honest probably differs markedly when used in the context of criminals as opposed to the context of friends. He proposes that we should look for the trans-contextual identity of a construct to define its precise meaning. That is, we should look for the superordinate and subordinate implications that are identical in both contexts.
Hinkle tested his hypotheses about subordinate and superordinate implications by first eliciting 10 personal constructs from 3 elements, which consisted of the person themselves and two other people known to the person, thus ensuring that the constructs were personally relevant. The person indicated which pole of the construct he or she would prefer to be described as. These he classified as "subordinate constructs". By a process of asking the person why they preferred to be described by one side of the construct rather than the other (the process now called laddering), 10 superordinate implications of the subordinate constructs were elicited. These superordinate constructs along with the 10 subordinate ones he used to form the implications grid. For that the person is asked to say whether change on construct 1 would be likely to cause change on each of the other constructs. Each construct is paired with all other constructs.
The implications grid differs from Kelly's repertory grid in asking the person directly how his or her constructs relate to each other, while Kelly's examines construct relationships through the construing of elements.
The relative resistance to change grid was constructed by presenting a pair of constructs at a time to the person and asking which of the pair the person would prefer to remain the same on if change were to take place. Each construct is paired with all other constructs. It is possible to obtain a measure of intransitivity from this grid. That is, if A gives way to B and B to C then A should give way to C.
Research into Hinkle's theory hypothesising that superordinate (laddered) constructs would have more implications (are more meaningful) than subordinate constructs has upheld this (e.g. Neimeyer, Anderson & Stockton, 2001, Fransella, 1972). Fransella's research on the construing of those who stutter was based on Hinkle's formulation of the Choice Corollary. She modified Hinkle's implications grid so that the meaning of both poles of the constructs could be explored. Using this bi-polar implications grid it is possible to discover whether a person has more implications on the preferred or non-preferred poles of some of their constructs - that is, which pole is the more meaningful. Following Hinkle's line of argument it is possible to determine whether change from one pole of a construct to the other will be relatively smooth (equal implications on both poles), lead to threat (many fewer implications on the non-preferred pole) or to anxiety (relative absence of implications). Few of the many ideas Hinkle outlined for further consideration have been investigated thus far.
Hinkle shares with Kelly a scientific background. It has been suggested that Kelly's background in physics and mathematics influenced both his theory of personal constructs and the creation of the repertory grid (Fransella 1983, 2000). Hinkle explains how he was intrigued by both Kelly representing a construct as a straight line with a dot or small circle at each end and a subsystem of constructs as an unconnected cluster of such lines at various angles to one another in space. Hinkle says that his electronics background led him to visualize subsystems in terms of three-dimensional genealogical tables. Then again, constellatory constructs (which fix the realm membership of their elements) he sees as being "akin to the strength of a magnetic field emanating from each pole of pole of a construct. The greater a pole's field strength, the greater the number of constructs which clustered around it" (Hinkle, 1965, pp. 15-16).
Details of how to construct and administer the implications and bi-polar implications grids and the relative resistance to change grid can be found in Fransella, Bell and Bannister (2003). A full account of Hinkle's theorising can be found in Bannister and Mair (1968).

  • Bannister, D. & Mair, J. M. M. (1968) The Evaluation of Personal Constructs. London: Academic Press.
  • Fransella, F. (2000) George Kelly and mathematics. In J.W.Scheer (ed.) The Person in Society   Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag
  • Fransella, F. (1983) What sort of scientist is man-the-scientist? In: J. R. Adams-Webber & J.C. Mancuso (eds.)  Applications of Personal Construct Theory New York: Academic Press.
  • Fransella, Bell and Bannister (2003). A Manual for Repertory Grid Technique (2nd edition) Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Neimeyer, R. A., Anderson, A. & Stockton, L. (2001)  Snakes versus ladders: a validation of laddering technique as a measure of hierarchical structure. J Constructivist Psychology, 14, 85-106
  • ten Kate, H. (1981) A theoretical explication of Hinkle s implication theory. In H. Bonarius, R. Holland and S. Rosenberg (Eds)  Personal Construct Psychology: Recent Advances in Theory and Practice. London: Macmillan Publishers.
Fay Fransella

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Last update: 6 December 2003