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Salud mental

versão impressa ISSN 0185-3325


MONTESANO, Adrián; FEIXAS, Guillem  e  VARLOTTA, Nicolás. Content analysis of personal constructs in depression. Salud Ment [online]. 2009, vol.32, n.5, pp.371-379. ISSN 0185-3325.

Kelly's Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) proposes that attributing meaning to experience is the most fundamental process of human psychological functioning. He describes psychological activity as a continuous process of creating, testing and revising personal theories (usually implicit) that allow people to understand and anticipate events. Personal constructs are the basic units of these personal theories. Constructs are bipolar contrasts of meaning that form an evolving network through which psychological processes are canalized. This system provides with a limited number of alternative views for explaining, anticipating and participating in life. One of the most significant contributions to psychological research made by PCP concerns the possibility to develop tools for the study of subjective construing. The Role Construct Repertory Grid (RepGrid) has been extensively used to explore the view subjects have of themselves, others and their problems. This technique elicits a sample of verbal descriptions of contrasting alternatives, his or her personal constructs; and provides several measures of self construing (e.g., self-esteem) and systems organization (e.g., complexity). Several authors point out the utility and pertinence of exploring the construct system in the evaluation of depressive disorders. They show the interest of studying the construct systems of depressive patients in order to measure some aspects that symptom and standard cognitive measures of cognitive distortions do not take into account. Depressive mood is highly influenced by the subject's view of him or herself and others, and by the organization of his or her constructs. However, the content of these personal constructs has received far less attention from researchers. The main goal of this article is to complement the PCP model of depression through the content analysis of personal constructs. In contrast with traditional content analysis, we do not evaluate the valency of the content but the principal meaning dimensions through which depressive people describe their interpersonal experience. According to PCP and other cognitive approaches, we hypothesize that the contents of the construct systems in the depressive sample are different from those of the control group. Specifically, we believe that the depressive group will show a higher number of constructs related to emotions and morality. The present study was carried out with 53 patients seeking psychological treatment in various private clinics in Barcelona who met DSM-IV criteria for depressive unipolar disorders. The non-clinical comparison group (n= 53), paired by sex and age with the clinical one, included volunteers recruited by graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Barcelona as part of their practical experience with the RepGrid, after receiving specific training in its administration. To compare the pattern of the construct system of both groups, we categorized the content of the personal constructs elicited with the RepGrid using the Classification System for Personal Constructs (SCCP) developed by Feixas et al. The SCCP is composed of six thematic areas (moral, emotional, relational, personal, intellectual, and values/interests) broken down into 45 different categories. Inter-rater agreement was used to determine the reliability of the SCCP. The results were very satisfactory regarding the percentage of agreement between judges. Cohen's Kappa coefficient confirmed the high level of reliability of the SCCP, which was higher than that obtained in previous studies. Data provides evidence of the differences in content frequency distributions between the clinical and non-clinical groups. People from the depressive sample tend to use more constructs related to emotions and less to intellectual issues. The depressive group showed more constructs within certain specific categories such as <<tolerant-authoritarian>>, <<thoughtful-shallow>> and <<strong-weak>>, and less constructs referring to sexuality. The results indicate that content patterns of depressed people show various specific thematic emphases. Indeed, from the wide range of stimuli coming from interpersonal experience, the emotional aspects acquire a special saliency. Although the exploratory nature of the present study does not allow us to establish causal inference, it seems evident that the tendency of depressive people to focus on the emotional dimension could play an important role in the maintenance of the depressive symptoms. Likewise, the lack of constructs concerning intellectual and personal issues reinforces the idea that depressed people tend to focus on the emotional aspects of the interpersonal experience. The results from the content analysis of specific categories show some contrasting features in the construing systems of both groups. The low self-esteem frequently reported for depressive subjects, a self-demanding attitude, and a negative image of the self are aspects potentially related to the <<strong-weak>> dimension of meaning, which emerged as the most diverging dimension among the 45 categories within the six areas. On the other hand, constructs within the category <<tolerant-authoritarian>> allude to the focus on certain specific interpersonal aspects of experience. The concern about respect and power in relationships turns out to be an important meaning dimension, which is in line with the special interpersonal sensitivity displayed by depressive people when facing judgement and disapproval on the part of significant others. When we hypothesized that depressive people would present a greater number of moral constructs, we were considering that this higher frequency would be reflecting symptomatic aspects about perfectionism and self-demands. The explorative content analysis of this study has not shown enough sensitivity to this important feature of depressive people. Doubtlessly, a more refined research strategy is necessary in order to achieve a better understanding of the role played by morality in the construing systems. Finally, from the limitations of the present study, some issues are proposed for future lines of research. The combination of content and structural aspects, such as implicative dilemmas, seems to be the best alternative for the evaluation of the construct systems of depressive people. Thus, the advantages of studying the organization and the thematic emphases of individual systems of meaning can be combined. In any case, these results provide evidence for the clinical and theoretical advantages of the SCCP in studying the content of personal meaning systems. Therefore, it seems to be a fruitful and useful assessment instrument which allows the clinician to understand the patient's problem in his or her own way of construing.

Palavras-chave : Depression; RepGrid; personal construct; content analysis.

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