Cognitive Theory of Personality
George A. Kelly’s Cognitive Theory of Personality is phenomenological and focuses on the internal frame of reference of an individual. His theory is both cognitive and existential because it studies mental events and it emphasizes the future and individual’s freedom to choose. It is also humanistic because it focuses on creative powers and is optimistic about an individual’s ability to solve problems. Like Freud, Kelly started his theory from a blank slate and created an entirely new concept. His theory differed greatly from Freud’s, however, because Freud focused on the animalistic forces of our unconscious while Kelly focused on the human capacity to reflect on oneself, the world, and the future (Cervone & Pervin, 2013, p. 391). Kelly took a different approach to the study of personality and behavior than psychologists before him. The cognitive theory of personality refers to thinking processes at the center point of the analysis of personality and individual differences (Cervone & Pervin, 2013, p. 391). Kelly’s theory explains how individuals actively use scientific thinking to group people and behaviors into categories for interpretation instead of passively reacting to the environment.
A main focus of Kelly’s theory is the concept of personal constructs. Constructs are ideas or categories people use to interpret their world and are considered an element of knowledge (Cervone & Pervin, 2013, p. 391). There are three elements required to form a construct: two similar elements and one that is different (Cervone & Pervin, 2013, p. 397). According to his theory, all people are basically scientists that use scientific processes to develop ideas that enable us to predict significant events in our life (Cervone & Pervin, 2013, p. 396). People interpret, explain, or predict, the events in their lives through the utilization of Kelly’s constructs. Ultimately, a scientist is trying to reduce uncertainty in a particular subject area just like an individual categorizes his or her surroundings to reduce uncertainty. Kelly’s theory is organized into a fundamental postulate and eleven corollaries. His fundamental postulate says “A person’s processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events” (Boeree, 2006). The processes are referring to a person’s experiences, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We use our surroundings and personal experience to interpret our surroundings and make assumptions of what to expect in the future. For example, most people return a smile if someone smiles at them so the expectation is that if I smile at someone they will reciprocate. I have an expectation of how someone will react based on past experiences.
The cognitive theory of personality can be utilized both personally and professionally. This theory emphasizes that how each individual interprets the same situation might be very different because we all understand or perceive reality differently. This is important when dealing with people because we must always remember that our interpretation of the situation might be very different. In my workplace, we emphasize this idea when teaching employees about harassment and how to avoid it. The biggest lesson is that you are held accountable for how your actions or words are perceived, not how your intentions. This means that a person may think they are being funny but someone else’s interpretation, or reality, is that they are being offensive. It is always important to try and see things from other perspectives, both personally and professionally.
Cognitive theories can be very effective in explaining human behaviors, however, I would not consider it more effective than other theories. Kelly created an excellent theory that explains how the human mind interprets situations, categorizes things, and anticipates events. However, I feel that the theory lacks the foundations of how personality...
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