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In 1965, Dennis Hinkle was awarded his PhD at Ohio State University with his dissertation on The Change of Personal Constructs from the Viewpoint of a Theory of Implications. He theorised that the meaning of personal constructs lies in what each implies and what is implied by each. He also described the implications grid, and a way of measuring the relative resistance to change of individual constructs. He argued that the more abstract (superordinate) personal constructs are the more they are likely to resist change. In order to establish an individual's superordinate personal constructs Hinkle described a method for which Bannister and Mair (1968) coined the term laddering.
There are no formal instructions for the laddering process but it basically involves asking why a person would prefer to be described by one pole of a personal construct rather than the other. The construct "ladder" usually ends up with a statement of the values that underlie a person's construing of their personal world. It is these values that are likely to have wide ranges of implications and, thereby, are more resistant to change than constructs lower down the ladder.
R. Neimeyer (1993) modified this procedure into what he termed "dialectical laddering". He finds this to be useful when a person cannot say which pole of a personal construct is the preferred one. Both poles may have negative implications. Bannister and Mair (1968) talk of "laddering down" to yield more subordinate or concrete constructs. This method was later described in greater detail by Landfield (1971) who called it pyramiding.        
Laddering is seen by many practitioners as possibly the most powerful procedures for eliciting the values a person holds, and with which they organise their world, to have come out of personal construct psychology. Although it has been used predominantly in the clinical setting, it has been found of value in a wide range of other settings. For instance, used in workshops with officers in the Metropolitan Police, London, UK to help them find out more about themselves and their roles within their jobs (Porter, 2003); in helping understand how psychiatric nurses construed their changing role (Costigan, Closs & Eustace, 2000); Marsden and Littler (1998) advocate its use in market research and marketing to identify the personal values associated with products; Stojnov and colleagues (1997), using the laddering process, found that for Serbs, the only alternative to going to war was being slaughtered. Laddering the construct war versus peace yielded constructs such as choosing to be yourself instead of losing your being and surviving versus being slaughtered. It has also been widely used in the area of management and the study of organisational cultures and change (an overview of this area can be found in Brophy, Fransella & Reed (2003).
Details of both laddering and pyramiding can be found in Fransella (2003) and in Fransella, Bell & Bannister (2003).

  • Bannister, D. & Mair, J. M. M. (1968) The Evaluation of Personal Constructs. London: Academic Press.
  • Brophy, S., Fransella, F. & Reed, N. B. (2003) The power of a good theory. In F. Fransella (ed.) International Handbook of Personal Construct Psychology. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons
  • Costigan, J., Closs, B. & Eustace, P. (2000) Laddering: theoretical and methodological contingenices - some order and a little chaos. In J. W. Scheer (ed.) The Person in Society: Challenges to a Constructivist Theory. Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag.
  • Fransella, F. (2003) Some skills and tools for personal construct practitioners. In F. Fransella (ed.) International Handbook of Personal Construct Psychology. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Fransella, F., Bell, R. & Bannister, D. (2003) A Manual for Repertory Grid Technique (2nd edition). Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Landfield, A. W. (1971) Personal Construct Systems in Psychotherapy Chicago: Rand-McNally.
  • Marsden, D. & Littler, D. (1998) Repertory grid technique: an interpretive research framework. European Journal of Marketing, 34, 816-834.
  • Neimeyer, R. A. (1993) 'Constructivist approaches to the measurement of meaning'. In G. J. Neimeyer (Ed) Constructivist Assessment: A Casebook London: Sage Publications
  • Porter, J. (2003) Introducing personal construct psychology into the Metropolitan Police, London. In F. Fransella (ed.) International Handbook of Personal Construct Psychology. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons
  • Stojnov, D., (1997). Knezevic, M. & Gojic, A. To be or not to be a Serb: construction of national identity amongst Yugoslav students. In P. Denicolo & M. Pope (Eds) Sharing Understanding and Practice. Farnborough, UK: EPCA Publications

Fay Fransella

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004