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Tight construing; tightening
"A tight construct is one which leads to unvarying predictions".  (Kelly, 1955/1991, Vol. 2, p. 7/1991)
The tight-loose dimension of construing is seen by Kelly as one of the most important in his theoretical system. It is about the process of construing rather than its structure or content. Construing tightly leads to unvarying predictions which means we can be pretty certain that a spade is a spade. Of course, it is not an absolute term. Constructs can be used in a relatively tight as opposed to a relatively loose way. It is our tight use of constructs that gives our lives a sense of predictability and permanence.
As with all aspects of personal construct theory, we have problems if we construe in some extreme manner. Those who construe in an extremely tight are at psychological risk since any substantial evidence that they are wrong may have the effect of causing the whole construing system to collapse like the proverbial pack of cards. The only psychological disorder that is sometimes associated with overly tight construing is that of paranoia. Here the predictions are indeed unvarying. In fact, a psychiatric definition of paranoid delusions is that they are totally resistant to invalidation. In his series of experiments on schizophrenic thought disorder, Bannister found that the first response of those who were consistently invalidated in their construing of people was to tighten it before loosening to "try and get it right". Bannister and Fransella (2003) say: "This leaves open the question of why, if paranoia is the bus stop on the way to schizophrenic thought disorder, some get off the bus there, while others go on to schizophrenic thought disorder" (p.150). Kelly was, however, not keen on the use of the psychiatric label of paranoia but, if it was to be used, he equated it more with over-dilated rather than tight construing. Indeed, there are no specific disorders in Kelly's theorising that are based on extremely tight construing. Except, of course, as Kelly puts it: "If construing is tight, one runs the risk of being shattered on the uncompromising rocks of reality" (Kelly, 1955, p. 849/1991, Vol 2, p. 20).
Tightening plays a central role in the Creativity Cycle. Tightening must take place after loose construing to complete the Cycle. The Cycle starts off with "letting the mind wander" or day-dreaming. But nothing creative comes of that unless we are able to tighten up on something that has struck us as interesting. We tighten our construing so that we can look at the idea conceptually to see if it is as good as it looked when it flashed through our mind's eye.
Our core sense of ourselves tends to be tightly construed. We like to have a stable sense of the sort of person we fundamentally are. Any loosening here can make us feel quite anxious because of the reduction in predictability.


  • Bannister, D. & Fransella, F. (2003) Inquiring Man (3rd edition) Ebook: Taylor & Francis.
  • Kelly, G.A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. (2 volumes) New York: Norton.

Fay Fransella

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004