Let’s begin with the claims made in the thesis for Constructed Development Theory. They appear to be big claims, however, each is evidenced and validated in the research and reflected in the Discussion section of the thesis. Click THIS link for the full thesis. Consider the impact on psychology as a whole as you read the list below.

  1. CDT is the bridge between constructionism and constructivism.
  2. CDT is the bridge between domain general and domain specific thinking.
  3. CDT is the “empty bridge” of stage transition.
  4. CDT can move us away from stages on to onions.
  5. CDT makes Stage transition possible via IACR.
  6. CDT is Adult Metacognition.
  7. CDT maps the facets of Piaget’s disequilibrium principle.
  8. CDT could be considered Metacognition for Adults.
  9. CDT is the first measure of metacognition via the TQ.
  10. CDT reinforces that thinking IS the task (Commons).
  11. CDT illustrates that ‘competence’ might exist by a different name: DI.
  12. CDT separates vertical growth from stage development via the Onion.
  13. CDT is the underlying reason for modularity (Fodor, 1983 & Carruthers, 2006).
  14. CDT is the foundation for any measure of self-awareness, which is DI.
  15. CDT, as a psychological field of study allows one to be a: Constructed Developmental Psychologist!

Further to these contributions, CDT can be abbreviated as such:

  • CDT reveals hidden infrastructure (algorithms)
  • CDT reveals hidden patterns of thinking (styles)
  • CDT enhances understanding of relationship between unconscious biases and responses to environment
  • CDT highlights limitations to learning and thinking and responding
  • CDT highlights interventions for improvement
  • CDT highlights interventions for personal development
  • CDT highlights interventions for development of praxis

Introducing Constructed Development Theory

Constructed Development Theory takes its name from its central premise: that self-awareness and cognitive growth are concepts that are constructed by the brain. The aim of the theory is to develop perspicacity. The flow of the theory is thus:

The Theory of Constructed Development focuses on how human beings utilise shortcuts in their thinking in order to construct their Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response in the moment. The greater their awareness of their intention based on the use of fifty Cognitive Intentions, the greater their capacity to respond in the moment.

Dynamic Intelligence is the process by which we construct our thinking in the moment in order to determine the path from (unconscious) Intention to Awareness, then Choice and finally Response. The greater our awareness of our intention, the more choice we create in our responses in the moment, thus, the greater our Dynamic Intelligence.

The Thinking Quotient is the tool created to measure our awareness of the relationship between the fifty Cognitive Intentions that are the building blocks of our Dynamic Intelligence. The score derived from this measure is one’s level of Dynamic Intelligence. This scale is the benchmark for one’s Constructed Development.



Thesis Introduction

This research aims to evaluate what unites and separates the literature on adult stage development, intelligence and cognition. It sets out to discover if the transition between developmental stages can be deconstructed using fifty ‘Cognitive Intentions’ (CI) to determine a person’s ‘Intention’, ‘Awareness’, ‘Choice’ and ‘Response’ in the moment, and in so doing, create a new approach to adult development, called ‘Constructed Development Theory’. Furthermore, it aims to question the existence of developmental stages as the process for growth and asks if a holarchical approach is more appropriate to an individual’s cognitive development. The main aims of the research are to determine initially, a post-graduate student’s intention in the moment; their level of awareness of this intention; their construction of self in an academic context using 50 Cognitive Intentions; their ability and capacity to change this construction in the moment, and the strategies for a choice of response this creates. In order to achieve this, Cognitive Intentions were removed from their original arena, renamed and reframed and aligned with schemata (Piaget, 1971; Rumelhart and Norman, 1983; McAdams and Pals 2007), giving them a psychological foundation not previously seen in the literature. This will directly impact the teaching of Cognitive Intentions going forward, thus expanding their future use and influence. In order to achieve the main aims, the research has five key objectives:

  1. To provide a review of the literature on adult stage development, awareness and cognition in order to elicit the main theoretical principles underpinning each;
  2. To provide an assessment of factors identified by these main theories in the literature as having an influence on development, awareness, cognition and behaviour;
  3. To identify the gaps in the theories that emerge from the literature that allow for the development of a new theoretical framework, leading to a new conceptual framework in the theory: Constructed Development;
  4. To test the theory of Constructed Development using an experimental design that quantitatively measures a person’s level of awareness of construction of self in the moment that contributes to their choice of response;
  5. To test the lived experiences of the profile participants using qualitative methods to support the quantitative studies that precede it.

Thinking and intelligence exist as a duality in psychology and are treated as separate but inseparable concepts. They work in a dynamic relationship with each other, influencing each other in a mutual and reciprocal way (de Visch, 2014). Since Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, the human capacity for thinking has been deliberated (Georghiades, 2004), moving through the centuries to culminate in Descartes’ (1637) summary: cogito ergo sum. How did Descartes know he knew he could think, and what measure did he place on his intention to think, as well as his awareness of his thinking? This was achieved by understanding ‘doubt’. By virtue of the fact that we can doubt our existence, we must exist. By ‘thought’, Descartes meant anything ‘marked by awareness or consciousness’ (principle I9). It is these cognitive acts of believing, doubting, thinking or sensing that supports the hypothesis that one exists, because one cannot do these things without existing. Descartes’ intention was to prove we think and exist. It will be argued throughout this literature review that a more appropriate phrase could be: cogitandi mea intentio est, ergo sum (‘my thinking has intention, therefore I am’).

There are a number of models that specifically examine cognitive and emotional complexity (e.g. Kegan, 1994; Laske, 2008; Cook-Greuter, 2013; Eigel & Kuhnert, 2016), thus a constructivist approach informs the conceptualisation of the new theory of Constructed Development. This, in turn, allows the exploration of a link between Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response as the foundation for one’s Dynamic Intelligence.

Further to this, this study aims to investigate the extant literature for philosophies surrounding the measures of intelligences (e.g. Spearman,1927) and complexity in thinking (Kegan, &Lahey, 1994; Laske, 2008) based on metacognition and stage development (Commons, 1984), initially in a post-graduate student population. Whilst social-emotional and cognitive complexity have been widely identified in the research (Travis 2003; Boal & Hooijberg 2000) there is a major gap in the literature with regard to the concept of self-awareness from a position of Intention and Choice. Laske (2008) and Kegan (1994) both address cognitive and social-emotional complexity, however they only describe the thinking and behaving of actors at the various levels of their respective scales. This thesis aims to expose the gap within their systems by offering a ‘thing’ to change in order for an individual to progress up their ladders of cognitive and social-emotional development.

It is important that this gap is addressed as self-awareness is overlooked as a factor of vertical development within the literature. By aligning self-awareness from the perspective of cognitive heuristics with cognitive complexity, this thesis makes a unique and potentially disruptive contribution to the fields of stage development and metacognition.

As psychology has moved towards a more hypothetico-deductive model, where the outcome of a falsifiable hypothesis is investigated and observed, and where the outcome is unknown, the introspective elements of anecdotal psychology have been discarded (Spector, Rogelberg, Ryan, Schmitt, & Zedeck, 2014). See Figure F.1.

With so many theorists having an influence on the psychology of adult developmental stages, it would be appropriate to demonstrate the theorists and their theories from a comparative perspective. See Table F.1 for a comparison of stage development theories.

An Overview of Constructed Development Theory

The theoretical underpinnings of Constructed Development Theory (CDT) are that human beings utilise shortcuts in their thinking in order to construct their Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response in the moment. The five studies within this thesis set out to determine initially, that participants deconstruct their thinking by way of fifty Cognitive Intentions (such as Internal and External), and it is their level of awareness of their relationship with these heuristics that holds the key to their Dynamic Intelligence (DI).

DI is the process by which one constructs their thinking in the moment, incorporating as many facets from conscious action as possible in order to predict the outcome in the moment. This study aims to determine the level to which individuals are capable of consciously choosing those facets in order to predict the outcome in the moment, to facilitate greater choice in their response.

This predictive quality extends Vygotsky’s (1978, p84-91) Zone of Proximal Development into the adult arena, creating a new Zone of Dynamic Development, and incorporates a constructive element that creates a new field of psychology explored throughout the thesis, called: adult metacognition.

Adult metacognition is supported by the following Four Pillars: Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response, upon which CDT is built as a unique contribution to psychology and an emergent theory throughout the five studies in this thesis.

Key Contributions

There are a number of key contributions put forward in this thesis:

  • Constructed Development Theory – the focus on shortcuts to our self-construction
  • Adult Metacognition – thinking about habituated thinking from a heuristic perspective
  • The Four Pillars of Constructed Development – how CDT is deconstructed
  • Dynamic Intelligence – the process by which CDT is constructed by the individual
  • Zone of Dynamic Development – the adult complexity version of Vygotsky’s ZPD
  • The Development Onion – moving CDT away from a stage-based system
  • Cognitive Intentions linked to Piagetian schemata – not done before
  • Cognitive Thinking Styles – and our unconscious habituated use of them
  • The Thinking Quotient Measurement tool for self-awareness
  • The Development Iceberg – conscious and unconscious mapping of CI’s
  • The Dynamic Intelligence Awareness Model – the process for DI awareness
  • Constructed Development Grid – where one places themselves developmentally
  • Emotional Intelligence is a facet of DI when IACR are considered
  • CDT is the Conduit between constructivism and constructionism
  • CDT is the Conduit between domain-general and domain-specific thinking

Each one of the contributions has the capacity to be disruptive in either the stage development field of psychology, or stage transition and thus offers a unique contribution to psychology as a whole.

Study 1 intends to test the methodological approach and study 2 intends to use this approach to align a post-graduate student’s level of cognitive complexity with Cognitive Intention use as per the work of Kegan (1994) and Laske (2008) as a shortcut to their methods of determining an individual’s capacity and capability. Study 3 intends to validate the previous approach by testing the objectives on a large dataset of profiles. Study 4 intends to determine how self-aware an individual is by questioning their awareness of their Cognitive Intention use. Finally, study 5 intends to map the quantitative findings of study 3 with the self-report findings of study 4 by way of a semi-structured interview to determine the lived experience of the participants. This will help uncover the predominantly unconscious drivers of thinking and behaving for the participants, thus offering qualitative support for the theory.

Research Question

Understanding stage development in a psychological arena cannot progress using existing terminology that replicates previous studies and does little to differentiate one approach from another. The purpose of these mixed methods studies is to make a contribution in this area and thereby advance the field of stage development by the investigation of Constructed Development Theory and its capacity to fill the gaps both in the literature and between stages with a process not previously utilised in psychology. Hence, this study’s research question is:

Does Constructed Development Theory exist as a conceptual measure of self-awareness in the moment?

This is a fundamental break from the zeitgeist of adult stage development, and if the ideas are supported by the quantitative and qualitative data within this study, then a new developmental arena opens up for future investigation by developmental psychologists: namely the use of self-awareness as a measure of cognitive and social-emotional complexity.

To complete this research, participants were recruited for five studies, beginning with post-graduate students, to test the concept of CDT using methodology outlined by Mason, (2002) who argued for the use of mixed methods as it places the value on theoretical knowledge. There is also an inherent difficulty in designing tests for cognitive complexity, which is potentially the reason there are so few available that test the concept of psychological growth (Pfaffenberger, 2007). This adds support as to why it is important for this research to take place as it will open the door to future studies on adult cognitive growth not previously seen in stage development psychology.

As this study is concerned initially with the post-graduate student’s construction of self, there is an element of phenomenological theory (Finlay, 2007). This is where the researcher aims to provide a profound description of a post-graduate student’s construction of self in the world. Analysis focused on identifying patterns in an individual’s thinking by virtue of the combination of Cognitive Intentions (called their ‘Thinking Style’), and a measure of their ‘Dynamic Intelligence’ as determined by a new scale for measuring self-awareness: the Thinking Quotient.

It is expected that the new knowledge gained from this research will lead to a reification of the theory of Constructed Development in the literature after testing the concept with quantitative and qualitative data. This will lead to a new way of interpreting an individual’s capacity and capability via their awareness of their self-construction without the need for an intellectual framework that requires interpretation by a trained interpreter, thus eliminating the potentially fallible human element of the typical process.

The aim of developing the theory of Constructed Development in order to better-understand either the progression of an individual’s growth from one stage of development to another, or indeed, to establish if there are no stages at all, will be of particular interest to stage development academics, as well as adult development researchers. The question: ‘what is changing that causes the growth’ is addressed with a result that will impact thirty years of stage transition thinking, as cognitive shortcuts have not been utilised in this manner before now. It was therefore important to expose this gap in the stage development literature in order to open up a space for Constructed Development Theory to occupy.

Using a mixed methods approach to quantify the qualitative aspects of a profile questionnaire into the ‘deeper aspects of life, rather than the surface level of behaviour’ (Harung, Heaton & Alexander, 1995) is essential if we are to further our understanding of adult developmental psychology. The theoretical perspectives prevalent in cognitive development for children are compared and contrasted and then enhanced in order to elevate them to the adult development arena, including reframing a number of eminent theories that have the potential to impact both child and adult learning.

The study concludes with a qualitative representation of the quantitative findings by virtue of a series of interviews that utilise a hermeneutic phenomenology to expose the lived experiences of ten participants. These findings reinforce the premise that individuals are not aware of the principle that our thinking is constructed in a simplistic and habituated manner, and that this construction has major implications on what is perceived as ‘personality’ within psychology. The findings introduce the Four Pillars of Constructed Development (IACR) into a number of psychology disciplines and thus impacts existing dominating interpretations of how we think and behave. Questions arise from the findings that warrant further study, such as: if thinking is constructed in the moment, how does this impact one’s personality in the moment if it is the culmination of our constructs? And with awareness, can one construct their personality differently, at choice? If one can choose how to construct their personality, it has the potential to transform trait theory and personality theory from the perspective of Intention and Awareness.

Finally, as the initial impetus for this thesis is to investigate post-graduate students’ Thinking Styles, it is important to determine how much research exists on student thinking, and to what extent this thesis could add to the knowledge of how students construct their thinking in context. Given that there is very little research on intelligence and students in recent years, the concern also arises as to how psychology is depicted within academia and if the theories are misleading in any way (Warne, Astle & Hill, 2018).


Where Does CDT Fit In?

Philosophical Participation

Libertarian Free Will

From a CDT perspective, the free will element only arises through choice. At the lower levels of the Thinking Quotient, there is no free will, only habituated thinking and behaving. At the higher levels, the awareness of one’s construction is the catalyst for will. This is a more nondeterministic perspective. However, this only applies in cognition, not in bodily movement.

Non-causal libertarians typically believe that free actions are constituted by basic mental actions, such as decisions or choice. CDT says the same thing but only after one is made aware of the unconscious choice. Therefore we are responsible for our thinking and behaving only at the point of awareness, which then becomes non-causal. Will is only free at the point of awareness, is my perspective.


The compatibility between moral responsibility and determinism isn’t something I think of as an issue. Being an antitheist, I see the belief in any superstition as low level thinking, and to align superstition with morality is also low level. How compatibilism emerged as a thesis is dubious as determinism prevents humans from having the freedom to do what they choose to do, which would contradict my point above.

Having done some work on morality, I would say that causal determinism precludes moral responsibility as Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response matter more in the moment. However, what you mean by ‘moral’ and what others mean by ‘moral’ renders the argument almost moot. Also remember that CDT talks of cognitive heuristics, not the gross action of choosing to vote between two political parties.


My personal viewpoint is that of a materialist monist. The mind is nothing without the physical brain. Not very New Age, but I have never heard a valid argument to counter this. Epiphenomenalism says mental events have no effects in the physical world, which is too abstract for CDT. I contest that an awareness of one’s unconscious (to conscious) Intention is to effect one’s physical world.

This is the issue: a Cognitive Intention is a heuristic created and supported over time that leads to a particular way of thinking, which would physically be a well-trodden neural pathway in the brain. With Awareness, this habituation can be selected for or against, which again, is not epiphenomenal.

Chalmers and Nagel

Nagel’s perspective on red cars (for example) is wrong. We all agree the car is red, and he states that we cannot know if your red is my red. However, red is a frequency, and your brain is constructed the same way as my brain, so your eyes see the exact same red (frequency of light) that I do. Our phenomenal experience of it is the same according to the physics.

The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. How you construct your experience is the same overarching principle of how I construct mine. However, our constructions will be the difference, not the constructing. The constructing is measurable in CDT.

Main Contributions of CDT

CI's and Thinking Styles

Dynamic Intelligence is the process by which one measures their Constructed Development.

This required the understanding of certain heuristics humans use unconsciously in their construction of themselves, their environment and more. These heuristics are called Cognitive Intentions, and it is the combination of these CI’s that form an individual’s unique Thinking Style. It is often an unconscious Thinking Style as we seldom think about our construction of self.

By virtue of the exposure of one’s construction of self, the awareness that one also constructs their environment allowed CDT to become the conduit between Constructivism and Constructionism, thus cementing it in psychology and contributing to theory in a major way.

The Thinking Quotient

Once the construction of self has been established and a relative level of awareness is apparent, it was necessary to find a way to measure this awareness.

The concept of Cognitive Intention awareness is simple enough, so the definitions of the various stages of self awareness were put together in a grid. Click here. As you read the grid, where would you place your construction of self?

The Developmental Onion

The Developmental Onion takes CDT beyond the realm of stage development and illustrates how cognitive and emotional growth are possible without the need for stage-based development.

This is a major contribution to theory as it demonstrates how it is possible to increase one’s awareness of self, self-construction and choice in the moment in order to impact our world view.

Once it is understand that everything is constructed, there is no regression in awareness. The Developmental Onion illustrates this with each ring. Once a more balanced perspective is attained, then we need not relearn the Cognitive Intention: we simply need to revisit it.

Adult Metacognition

Getting adults to think about their thinking from a constructivist perspective has been around for a while. However, getting them to consider HOW they construct their thinking and thus their sense of self from a heuristic perspective is new to this research.

Children are given strategies to cope with incoming information. This led Vygotsky to his Zone of Proximal Development. CDT takes this principle and propels it to the adult arena and calls our awareness of our construction of self, the Zone of Dynamic Development based on the Onion above.

By virtue of this separation from existing stage development literature, Dr Darren Stevens created the foundations for the new field of Adult Metacognition.

Constructed Development Psychologist

Having established CDT as a bona fide theory in psychology, capable of standing up to scrutiny and to stand alone as a measurable concept, the final contribution to knowledge this research offers is the potential for an individual to become a Constructed Developmental Psychologist. This can also be abbreviated to: Developmentalist!

In Summary

The impact of Constructed Development Theory on both theory and practice can be summed up with the following list:

  • The creation and explication of Cognitive Intentions as heuristics
  • The creation of Thinking Styles as habituated behavioural outcomes
  • Adult Metacognition as a means to understanding adult thinking
  • Zone of Dynamic Development
  • The Development Onion
  • The Thinking Quotient
  • The Dynamic Intelligence Awareness Model
  • The Four Pillars of Constructed Development
  • The Constructed Development Grid
  • Emotional Intelligence is a facet of Dynamic Intelligence when IACR are considered
  • The process for differentiating between a client’s coaching or therapy needs
  • DI can be determined by more than just CI awareness thus cementing CDT in external research going forward

And the Value Add:

  • CDT reveals hidden infrastructure (algorithms)
  • CDT reveals hidden patterns of thinking (styles)
  • CDT enhances understanding of relationship between unconscious biases and responses to environment
  • CDT highlights limitations to learning and thinking and responding
  • CDT highlights interventions for improvement
  • CDT highlights interventions for personal development
  • CDT highlights interventions for development of praxis