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Slot rattling (contrast reconstruction)
Slot change, or "contrast reconstruction", is one of the more simple, and often less enduring, change processes in PCP. In a slot change, the person construes people, events, or themselves on the opposite pole of an existing construct. A timid person might for example "act as if" they were a confident person, or someone who perceives a situation as worrying might try construing the same situation as exciting.
A contrast reconstruction can be an enlightening experiment in experiencing change, and can lead to some elaboration of the person’s system, enabling further development. More often, such experiments fall into Kelly’s category of "superficial movement". When the confident-acting person experiences difficulties or invalidation in  their new behaviour, they are likely to revert back to the original pole of  timidity, hence the term "slot-rattling" as the person moves from one pole to another and back again.
When a person makes a slot change, it may appear initially that an enormous movement has been made resulting in markedly different behaviours. The superficiality results from there having been no elaboration of the construct system, or of that particular construct, which remains a well-used and viable path to which no alternative routes have been added.
This will be important to remember when working with Kelly’s technique of fixed role therapy, through which a client experiments with new behaviours based on a character sketch prepared with or by the therapist. A suitable character sketch for the timid person would be unhelpful and unrealistic written as supreme confidence. We would be aiming instead for a character with enough in common with the client for them to feel comfortable in role, but different enough for this to be a worthwhile experiment. We may create for example, a character who feels a little timid at times, but who generally expects things to work out well, and who interacts wholeheartedly, thus avoiding the potential for a simplistic slot rattling.

Superficial movement may be triggered by threat, prompting us to move to the contrast pole to recover our ability to anticipate; by invalidation, leading us to move to the only alternative we have immediately available; or by new situations, which through their unfamiliarity call for different behaviours.
Kelly describes this kind of movement as "sometimes worth seeking", but also cautions that it will all too often "end up  in see-saw behaviour". While it may have been a useful experiment or enactment tool, we are advised that "from a psychological point of view one should not consider such behaviour contrasts as indicating any more than a minimum of personality development".  


  • Kelly, G. (1955)  The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Vol 2, pp 19-20. New York: Norton.

Mary Frances

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004