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Cognitive complexity
The concept of cognitive complexity was first propounded by Bieri (1955) and is to do with the organization of constructs and their similarity. If the elements in a grid are construed in the same fashion for all constructs then the organization of the constructs is simple, they all lead to an identical prediction. A tendency for constructs to be highly interrelated is sometimes termed monolithic construing. If the elements are construed in less related ways for all constructs then there is a more complex organization leading to different predictions. Of course if the elements are construed in totally unrelated ways for all constructs then we have chaos in prediction, a totally fragmented set of constructs.

Unfortunately Bieri’s initial bipolar emphasis on ‘complexity-simplicity’ has been lost with the term being more simply referred to as ‘cognitive complexity’. The distinction has also been reinterpreted by Crockett (1965) and others as one of 'differentiation' and 'integration'. This changing of labels makes for some confusion in the literature. There have been a number of alternative methods for generating an index of this ‘cognitive complexity’. Bieri’s initial procedure was to count the matchings in a binary version of the grid. Subsequently Bannister (1960) conceived of a related measure ‘intensity’, an average correlation measure, while other approaches include the percentage of variance accounted for by the first principal component of construct correlations, an adaptation of the matching approach devised by Landfield (see Landfield and Cannell, 1988) and known as the ‘functionally independent construct’ or FIC index, and the use of analysis of variance approaches (Vannoy, 1965, Bell and Keen (1980). Cognitive complexity can also be calculated from Crockett’s Role Category Questionnaire (Crockett, 1965), where the number of independent constructs produced is taken as a measure of cognitive complexity. This is similar to a measure of self-complexity used more generally in social psychology (Rafaeli-Mor, Gottlib and Revelle (1999). Crockett’s measure has been found to be superior to the Bieri index in predicting other behaviours. (e.g. Crockett, 1982; Kline, Pelias, and Delia, 1991).


  • Bannister, D. (1960) Conceptual structure in thought disordered schizophrenics. Journal of Mental Science, 108, 1230-1249.
  • Bell, R.C.,  and Keen T.R. (1980) A statistical aid for the grid administrator. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 13, 143-150.
  •  Bieri, J. (1955) Cognitive complexity-simplicity and predictive behavior. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, 263-268.
  • Crockett, W.H. (1965) Cognitive complexity and impression formation. In B. A. Maher (Ed.) Progress in experimental personality research Volume 2, pp. 47-90. New York: Academic Press.
  • Crockett, W.H. (1982) The organization of construct systems: The organization corollary. In J.C. Mancuso and J.R. Adams-Webber (Eds.)  The construing person. Pp. 62-95. New York: Praeger.
  • Kline, S.L., Pelias, R.J., and Delia, J.G. (1991) The predictive validity of cognitive complexity measures on social perspective-taking and counselling communication. . International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 4, 347-357.
  • Landfield, A. W., and Cannell, J. E. (1988) Ways of assessing functionally independent construction, meaningfulness, and construction in hierarchy. In J. C. Mancuso and M. L. G. Shaw (Eds.) Cognition and personal structure: Computer access and analysis (pp. 67-90). New York: Praeger
  • Rafaeli-Mor, E., Gotlib, I.H., and Revelle, W. (1999) The meaning and measurement of self-complexity. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 341-356.
  • Vannoy, J.S. (1965) Generality of cognitive complexity-simplicity as a personality construct. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,  2, 385-396.

Richard C. Bell

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004