Shareability of construct

Mancuso, James C. (
Sun, 01 Mar 1998 11:53:49 -0500

PCP Networkers:
All the advice on e-mail messages cautions against sending long
messages. I have confidence that that advice -- based on the premise
that no one reads long messages -- doesn't apply to messaages on the PCP

Occassionally I run across an article that is extremely useful, in
terms of its relevance to an effort to elaborate personal construct
theory; and find myself embarrassed that I had not discovered the piece
earlier. Such is the case with an article:
Freyd, J. J. (1983. Shareability: the social psychology of
epistemology. Cognitive science, 7, 191-210.

This article takes up one of the continued discussions in the general
constructionist literature. Namely, what is the role of social
interaction in shaping meaning? Freyd suggests that there are two major
positions taken in addressing shareability argument. "The 'weaker'
argument is that many cognitive or linguistic structures have the form
they do because they must be shared. The stronger argument is that only
in the sharing do the forms exist; that is, no individual mentality
represents the eventual outcome of the communications of thoughts" (p.
192). Those of us who read the constructionist literature with some
regularity will recognize the contrast of these two positions. Freyd
says, "It is the former argument that I will develop in this paper,
since it is both more plausible and more tractable. Thus, the preferred
version of shareability assumes that observed structures are
"psychologically real,' but without the structures necessarily applying
a constraint of internal representability" (pp 192-3).
As Freyd discusses her approach she supports one after another of the
assumptions she would build into her theory of "social epistemology."
She first establishes the idea that a set of events in what she called a
"semantic domain" -- such as, emotion terms, kinship terms, color terms
-- can be described by use of a set of complements or features. Some of
us who have worked with be constructions developed by the cognitive
scientists will recognize that some personal construct psychologists
cannot be entirely happy with the construction feature. The term too
frequently invokes a construction involving something like "out there
reality." We have no difficulty, however, thinking of our construction
construct when we come across the term feature, regarding a feature as a
signifier used to designate one end of a construct, e. g., the feature
of an event signified by good, the positive pole of the bad-good
Having passed this minor hurdle in our study of Freyd's article, we
have no difficulty when she talks about the effort to introduce a new
construction into the semantic domain. She says, ". . . It is also
possible that when cultural programs, such as kinship terminology, pass
from person to person they come to take a form which is most easily and
efficiently shared" (p. 194). She goes on, "the shareability theory
presented here predicts that the term will be less successful if it is
not classifiable by existing complements [read; construed using existing
constructs], even if any one person is perfectly capable of
understanding the term" (pp 194-5). As I see it, she is neatly
advocating the utility of the "Choice Corollary: a person chooses for
himself that alternative in a dichotomous construct through which he
anticipates the greater possibility for extension and definition of this
system" (Kelly, P. 45).
As I see it, Freyd is making clear that a theory of social
epistemology must begin by recognizing that the individual must have a
certain basic set of constructs before he or she can develop new
meanings in a social situation.
Of course there are a wide variety of implications that follow from
working with these assumptions. She says at one point, "Thus the
attempt to introduce a term that almost neatly fits into the
pre-existing structure of the semantic domain will probably result in a
distorted meaning that neatly fits into the pre-existing structure
[read, shared personal construct system]" (p. 195).
Those personal construct theorists who have worked with computational
techniques such as multidimensional scaling, will be interested in
Freyd's view on the use of multidimensional scaling to locate a novel
element into a semantic domain by a working with what I would call
constructs. She cites the work of D'Adreade, the cultural
anthropologist whose work can be useful to enhance personal construct
On page 197, Freyd asks a question that those of us who attempt to
teach personal construct theory must have been asked many times. "Why
is it that people seem to categorize things according to specific values
along potentially continuous dimensions?" Her analysis of this issue,
in which she cites a series of studies completed by other cognitive
scientists, should be very appealing to those of us with tried to answer
this question.
"This phenomenon might be understood through shareability: it is
easier for individual to agree with another ndividual about the meaning
of a new "term" (or other shared concept) if that term can be described
by; (a) some small set of the much larger set of dimensions [read;
constructs] upon which things vary; and (b) some small set of
dimensional values (or binary values as on a specific feature
dimension). Thus, terms are likely to be defined by the presence of
certain features. At the same time children are learning to pay
attention to those features or values on dimensions since they want to
be able to learn about existing shared knowledge structure. Indeed we
might expect that by asking children to describe an object to another
person we encourage more of a categorical representation" (pp. 197-8).
This seems to me to be a nice tie-in to the Dichotomy Corollary: a
person's construction system is composed of the finite number of
dichotomous constructs (Kelly, p. 41).
Freyd goes on to develop other basic assumptions upon which she builds
her general narrative about shareability. She turns to analysis of
Bartlett's early constructioniar investigations. "Bartlett helped
introduce an important concept into the study of human memory:
distortions in memory for an object or event make the memory more
similar to an existing schema [read, construction] for that object or
event" (P.. 201).
Freyd extends analysis to discussing language acquisition. This
discussion, though apt in the context in which is working, could be
regarded as being remote to the majority of people who attempt to work
with personal construct psychology. Though I found Freyd's work to be
very stimulating, my interest was raised particularly by a small
reference to the ways in which people develop the constructs systems
which they would use to construe the emotion domain.
Those of us who have followed the PCP net over the years of its
functioning know that the topic of, "How do we construe emotion?"
frequently appears. We also know that certain constructs which could
evoke constructs entailing terms warm, fuzzy show up in many discussions
of emotion. From my position I would look forward to an analysis of the
emotion domain in terms of a theory of social epistemology similar to
that which Freyd elaborates.

Though doing so forces me to admit that I had missed this article for
15 years, I would like to recommend this article for two reasons: (1)
its contents are very relevant to be discussion of whether not a theory
of shared meanings should include assumptions about the personal
construct systems of those doing the sharing, (2) the article is a clear
example of the ways in which we, as personal construct psychologists,
can utilize the wealth of literature being produced by the cognitive

I must end by admitting, also, that I won't be around to follow any
thread that is generated by this message.... I have have been forced to
take on the duty of visiting Sicily and Southern Italy for the next two
weeks. I look forward to reading the exchanges when I return.

Jim Mancuso

James C. Mancuso        Dept. of Psychology
15 Oakwood Place        University at Albany
Delmar, NY 12054        1400 Washington Ave.
Tel: (518)439-4416      Albany, NY 12222
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