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Chapter 15 The Cognitive Approach: Theory and Application George Kelly (1905-1967) Was born in a farming community near Wichita, Kansas Was an active and accomplished member of his college debate team Described his first psychology course as boring and unconvincing Received his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Park College Studied educational sociology at the University of Kansas and education at the University of Edinburgh Received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Iowa Subsequently taught at Fort Hays Kansas State College, the University of Maryland, Ohio State University, and Brandeis University Kelly’s personal construct theory Kelly’s theory adopted a man-the-scientist perspective. He argued that we have a strong need to want to understand the world as well as possible in order to predict and control the events we experience. He said that our ideas about the world can be compared to transparent templates that we “place over” the new events we encounter. We seek to develop and constantly refine our view of the world and everything in it, changing our mental templates based on how well or how poorly they have enabled us to predict events in the past. He used the term personal constructs to refer to the cognitive structures that we use to interpret and predict events. He argued that each person’s system of personal constructs is different from that of every other person. Example of hierarchically ordered constructs Animals ― Plants Flowers ― Trees Deciduous ― Conifers Christmas trees ― Other conifers Example of hierarchically ordered constructs Management ― Floor staff Cashiers ― Salespersons Naive ― Sophisticated Patient ― Impatient Basic assumptions of George Kelly’s personal construct theory Fundamental postulate: A person’s processes are psychologically channelized by the way in which s/he anticipates events. Individuality corollary: Persons differ from each other in their construction of events. Dichotomy corollary: A person’s construction system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs. Range corollary: A construct is convenient for the anticipation of a finite range of events only. Commonality corollary: To the extent that one person constructs experience in a way that is similar to another, her/his psychological processes are similar to those of the other person. Sociality corollary: To the extent that one person construes the construction processes of another, s/he may be able to understand and effectively deal with the other person. Kelly’s view of psychological problems Kelly rejected the idea that most psychological disorders are caused by past traumatic experiences. He argued instead that they are attributable primarily to inadequate or faulty personal construct systems. He believed that anxiety is at the heart of most psychological problems, and that it occurs when we feel that we are unable to adequately interpret, predict, or control events. Why do our personal construct systems sometimes fail us? Kelly suggested the following reasons: – Sometimes our personal construct systems are too small or are incomplete. – Sometimes our personal construct systems become impermeable. – Sometimes our personal construct systems are inadequate because of a lack of experience. Mischel’s cognitive personality variables Walter Mischel, a vocal critic of the trait approach to personality, has instead proposed that a complex system of cognitive-affective units determine our behavior. His approach is a more complicated extension of the kind of cognitive social learning models proposed by Julian Rotter and Albert Bandura. Instead of traits, Mischel explains behavior in terms of encodings, expectations and beliefs, affects, goals and values, and competencies and self-regulatory plans. Cognitive-affective units in Mischel’s personality system Encodings: Categories (constructs) for encoding information about one’s self, other people, events, and situations Expectations and beliefs: Expectations about what will happen in certain situations, about outcomes for certain behaviors, and about one’s personal efficacy Affect: Feelings, emotions, and emotional responses Goals and values: Individual goals, values, and life projects Competencies and self-regulatory plans: Perceived abilities, plans, and strategies for changing and maintaining one’s behavior and internal states. Cognitive structures: schemas Schemas are hypothetical cognitive structures that help us perceive, organize, process, and use information. Schemas organize and stabilize our perception of the world, helping to make it more interpretable and predictable in the ways that George Kelly emphasized. Over time, and with continued use, schemas operate with increasingly greater efficiency, to the point that they become automatic and “transparent.” As with other cognitive structures, we can use schemas to help explain personality differences, because they result in relatively stable individual differences in behavior. Cognitive structures: prototypes are schemas about other people Prototypes are hypothetical cognitive structures that help us perceive, organize, process, and use information by providing us with a central representative example of a particular category. Prototypes are usually organized hierarchically, with more specific prototypes subsumed under more general ones. For example, the general athlete prototype brings to mind a person who has good physical conditioning, excellent coordination, and a quick reaction time. That general prototype is fairly abstract, however, in comparison to the more specific prototypes of a WWW wrestler, an NBA basketball player, a female Olympic gymnast, and a jockey. The prototype we apply to a given person is important because it can play a large role in how we view and react to that person. Cognitive structures: self-schemas Self-schemas are cognitive generalizations about the self, derived from past experience, that organize and guide the processing of self-relevant information. Because each part of your life is not equally important, not everything you do becomes part of a self-schema. Differences in self-schemas give rise to corresponding differences in behavior (examples: elementary school children with a prosocial selfschema, women with a successful dieter self-schema, women whose self-schemas included sexuality). Self-schemas can facilitate response times in judging schema-relevant words as self-descriptive, as in the widely cited study by Markus (1977). Information processed through the self-schema should be easier to remember than information processed through other types of schemas (Rogers, Kuiper, & Kirker, 1977). Mean number of words recalled as a function of the cue question (Rogers, Kuiper, & Kirker, 1977) 3.5 3 2.5 2 1.5 1 0.5 0 Big letters? Rhymes with? Means same as? Describes you? Cognitive structures: possible selves Possible selves are cognitive representations of imagined future selves. Possible selves can be positive (for example, homeowner, happily married). However, they can also be negative and take the form of feared selves (for example, homeless person, divorced person). Possible selves serve two important functions: – They help us interpret the meaning of our behavior and the events in our lives. – They provide incentives for future behavior. Developing appropriate possible selves is an important part of adolescence. In one study, more than a third of juvenile delinquents had already developed the possible self of criminal. Higgins’self-discrepancy theory Higgins argued that we not only compare our real self (actual self) to our ideal self, but to our ought self as well. He proposed that we experience negative emotion to the extent that our actual self falls short of our ideal self or our ought self. However, the first kind of discrepancy should result in feelings of disappointment or depression, whereas the second kind of discrepancy should result in feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and guilt. Application: Cognitive Psychotherapy George Kelly’s approaches to cognitive restructuring Help clients develop new constructs, re-shape their construct hierarchies, and modify old constructs so that they could better predict events. Use fixed-role therapy to help patients see the world through different eyes. In this type of therapy, a team of therapists creates an imaginary person for the client to roleplay. By practicing seeing the world the way this person does, the clients can presumably modify their personal construct systems so that they can more accurately interpret and predict events. Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Therapy The A-B-Cs of Rational Emotive Therapy According to Ellis, most of the negative emotion we experience is the self-generated product of faulty reasoning and reliance on irrational beliefs. He describes this as an A→ B → C process in which: – A is the Activating experience – B is the irrational Belief – C is the emotional Consequence We often cannot control the activating experience. However, by changing the irrational belief to a more rational one, we can change the emotional consequence from being negative to being either positive or neutral. Examples of some common irrational beliefs Because I would like be competent and successful in everything I do, I must do that at all times. Because I’m nice to other people and treat them with respect, everyone I meet must be nice to me and treat me with respect. Because I strongly desire a life that is comfortable and hassle-free, my life must be like that all of the time. Because I acknowledge my mistakes and apologize when I’m wrong, every else must always do the same. Because I work hard to look my best when I’m out in public, I must always look good in public and cannot accept ever looking bad. Because I love my partner and intensely desire to be loved in return, my partner must express as much love for me as I do for my partner. Self-instructional training Self-instructional training usually occurs in the context of a larger cognitive therapy program. It is used to treat different types of self-defeating thinking. Analogous to Rational Emotive Therapy, the goal of selfinstructional training is to replace self-defeating thoughts with more appropriate positive ones. Therapists using self-instructional training help their clients prepare internal monologues to help them cope effectively with each stage of a stressful experience. Research evidence suggests that this and other forms of cognitive restructuring therapy are actually more successful in treating depression than are behavior therapy, drug treatments, and, of course, no treatment. Assessment: The Rep Test George Kelly developed the Role Construct Repertory Test (or Rep Test) as a way of quickly assessing people’s personal construct systems. The Rep Test usually presents clients with a set of important “elements” (usually people) in their worlds, and asks them to answer questions such as “In what important way are two of these three (things, people, etc.) similar to each other but different from the third?” The effectiveness of this technique in capturing essential features of the client’s personal construct system relies on four assumptions: – That the constructs the client provides are not limited to the specific elements being evaluated, but also apply to new ones (and new situations). – That the constructs have some degree of permanence. – That the elements on the list are representative of the ones the client actually deals with in his or her daily life. – That clients are able to adequately describe the constructs they typically use. Example of a Repertory Grid form Strengths and criticisms of the cognitive approach Strengths – Many of its concepts and hypotheses evolved out of and were developed through empirical research findings. – It fits well with the current “cognitive Zeitgeist” in psychology – It informs the various cognitive/behavioral therapy techniques that have been developed in recent decades. Criticisms – Some of its concepts are too abstract, and many are not clearly distinguished from other such concepts. – It’s not clear that we really need to introduce these concepts in order to account for individual differences in behavior. – There is presently no single integrated theory available to organize and guide the research in this area. – Basic questions about how various cognitive structures relate to each other and how (or even if) they are embodied in brain processes have yet to be answered.