I am looking into ideas on personal sensemaking in relation to the ideas of Karl Weick (originally corporate collective sensemaking in organization theory) and George Kelly's notion of the "naive scientist" (or "Personal scientist" as it's politely described nowadays) in relation to his Personal Construct Theory.

Can someone please point me* to any freely available literature on how professional psychologists regard these ideas currently, where they have led and who might be researching them, or researching whatever they might have evolved into?

Or are these ideas now completely outdated/discredited,in which case: what has replaced them?

Helpful advice will be much appreciated. Thank you for reading.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensemaking https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Kelly_(psychologist)

  • I'm from a physical and quantitative management science background, not psychology)

2 Answers 2


Weick's sensemaking perspective is widely referenced in organizational behaviour literature, and has been significantly refined and extended over the years. For a good review of current status see Sandberg & Tsoukas (2015) [pdf].

Kelly's personal construct theory in contrast, has not fared as well in psychology circles as it has in philosophy. A good review is Winter (2015) or maybe Butt & Warren (2020) [pdf].

The general idea that people make sense of the world around them by organizing their past experiences into implicit or explicit theories, using those theories to make predictions, testing those predictions through future experiences, and updating their views accordingly, is long-standing in psychology. Variations of this idea include:

  • Sensemaking: How people give meaning to experiences and use this to make decisions.
  • Meaning-making: How people learn through the meaning they attach to experiences.
  • Personal construct theory (aka naive scientist): How people form constructs through experiences and use them to make predictions.
  • Theory-theory (aka child scientist or folk psychology): How people develop predictive models of others based on experiences.
  • Schemas: How people organize and update information to make sense of the social environment.
  • Prospection (aka foresight): How people learn to generate and evaluate predictions about the future.
  • Mental modelling: How the mind builds a representation of reality to reason and make decisions.
  • Constructivism: How the mind actively gives meaning and order to experiences.
  • Enactivism (aka participatory sensemaking): How people actively interact with their environment to generate meaning.

I think cognitive psychology is gradually moving away from intuitive ideas of how the brain works, and towards more rigorous theories that are based in neuroscience. Particularly Bayesian (probabilistic) approaches (eg, predictive coding), and neural-network approaches (eg, computational neuroscience) are gaining traction, as computing capabilities enable. Such theories model sensemaking in mathematical or computational terms that more accurately reflect how the brain actually works.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, Arnon - that's very helpful and more than I'd hoped for. Although I'm inclined to assign the bonus to your answer, I will wait a few days as you wrote in a comment above that it's not your area of expertise and I wouldn't want to discourage other answers for the present. $\endgroup$
    – iSeeker
    Commented Apr 19 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't look like anyone else is going to reply so I'm awarding the bonus now (Monday 22nd) $\endgroup$
    – iSeeker
    Commented Apr 22 at 21:17

Having had no response here, I posted the question on Quora, where STEM subjects often get informative replies, psychology less so.

However, Poe (which seems to be a LLM coordinator) did provide the following informative and helpful reply, unbidden.

Maybe someone expert in the subject could refine (or even demolish) an AI answer?

"Karl Weick's ideas on sensemaking andld George Kelly's Personal Construct Theory are still widely respected and influential in various fields today.

Sensemaking: Weick's work on sensemaking, which describes the process by which people give meaning to their experiences, remains a central framework for understanding organizational behavior and decision-making. His concepts around enactment, retrospective sensemaking, and the role of cues and plausibility are still heavily cited and applied in organizational studies, information systems, and crisis management research. Weick's emphasis on the active, interpretive nature of how individuals and groups make sense of ambiguous or uncertain situations continues to offer valuable insights.

Personal Construct Theory: George Kelly's Personal Construct Theory, which views people as "naive scientists" continuously trying to make sense of the world through their personal constructs or interpretive frameworks, is also still highly influential. The theory's focus on understanding individual differences in how people construe their experiences is widely recognized in fields like psychology, counseling, and education. Kelly's ideas around the importance of understanding an individual's unique perspective and the malleability of constructs have informed numerous therapeutic and learning approaches. Personal Construct Theory remains a significant contribution to the understanding of human cognition and meaning-making.

Both Weick's sensemaking and Kelly's Personal Construct Theory continue to be widely studied, discussed, and applied in various academic and professional contexts. They offer valuable lenses for comprehending how people navigate and make sense of the complex and ambiguous nature of human experience."

Perhaps I should take ChatGPT and the like as a potential tutor in this domain...?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Our experience here is that LLMs are good at generating responses that sound plausible, but are rarely accurate or useful. Notice in the response that no sources are provided, statements are vague and meaningless, and there is no discussion of replication, competing theories, refinements, outstanding questions, on-going research, or practical applications. If this was all you wanted, then LLMs are indeed a better choice than SE. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Commented Apr 17 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg Since no-one here seemed willing to answer I was surprised to get some sort of response from an LLM in Quora. I'm well aware of their limitations and would greatly prefer some refs and other aspects you mention, but the suggestion that Weick's and Kelly's ideas might not be completely outdated/discredited is encouraging - unless you can put it right...? $\endgroup$
    – iSeeker
    Commented Apr 17 at 18:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's not my area of expertise, and it may be that few others here know. Personally though, I'd rather have no answer, than a plausible-sounding answer whose accuracy is practically equivalent to a toss of a coin. If you are in a hurry, then you could try posting a bounty. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Commented Apr 17 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I'll try that. [In defence of LLMs, however, I used ChatGPT to interpret the highly technica radiologist's report on an MRI scan, and to explore surgical options, risks and expected recovery, before seeing a UK spine specialist, privately, whose recommendations were virtually identical to the LLM's best recommendation - and I'm now 14 weeks recovered from lumbar decompression. (Same hospital as King Charles and Princess of Wales attended, just after me.)] $\endgroup$
    – iSeeker
    Commented Apr 17 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @iSeeker Most of the support of the usefulness of LLMs is exactly the sort that you've provided: anecdotes where they got the right answer or cute examples where they seem to be especially insightful. There are also some embarrassing failures of the same models given similar prompts. The problem is that until you actually got the specialist's recommendation, you wouldn't have known which category you were in, and unless your specific question has been carefully posed to LLMs and studied we wouldn't know exactly which cases it would fail in or how often. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 17 at 22:22

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