Cognitive Style

Predicting school achievement as well as traditional psychometric measurements of intellectual abilities, cognitive styles are not abilities themselves but rather preferred ways of applying the abilities one has. Typically, cognitive styles refers to the manner in which individuals receive, process, and apply information.  Unlike  individual  differences  in  abilities that often are arranged by descriptions of peak performance, styles describe a person’s typical mode of thinking, remembering, and problem solving. Furthermore, styles are theorized as bipolar dimensions, whereas abilities are unipolar (ranging from zero to a maximum value). Having more of a particular ability is usually considered beneficial, while having a particular cognitive style simply designates a tendency for one to behave in a certain manner. Cognitive style is usually described as a personality dimension that influences attitudes, values, and social interaction. Cognitive styles dominate the preferences for how people process information,  and while many paradigms have been hypothesized, two basic dimensions appear most readily in the research literature: holistic/analytic and verbal/imagery. The former encompasses a tendency to organize and rearrange information into categorical segments of “wholes” and “parts.” The latter embraces a tendency to represent information verbally and/or through mental images. Cognitive style is an independent construct or psychological schema that is not apparently related to intelligence, personality, and gender. As such, it is an important  component  of  individual  differences  and has profound implications for accommodations in educational and workplace arenas. It is related to a range of behaviors, including learning performance, social responses, and occupational stress. Cognitive style appears to be fairly fixed, with a probable physiologic basis and, as such, is distinct from learning strategies that can be taught and acquired through instruction. A collection of cognitive styles has been isolated and examined over the past few decades, starting with the cognitive styles movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Among the most well-known cognitive styles are those related to handling one’s environment: field independence versus field dependence. This bipolar cognitive style refers to a tendency to approach the environment in either an analytical or a global fashion. At a perceptual level, field-independent personalities are able to distinguish figures as discrete from their backgrounds compared with field-dependent individuals, who experience events in an undifferentiated way. Field-dependent individuals have a greater social orientation relative to field-independent personalities. Several studies have identified a number of connections between this cognitive style and learning. For example, field-independent individuals are likely to learn more effectively under conditions of intrinsic motivation (e.g., self-study) and are influenced less by social reinforcement. Another well-known cognitive style related to the way people tend to approach and handle tasks is that of impulsivity versus reflectivity. An impulsive student works fairly quickly but makes many mistakes. In contrast, a reflective student works much more slowly but with much greater accuracy. Similar to the field independence–field dependence cognitive style, impulsive and reflective cognitive styles  are  not  substantially  related  to  intelligence within the normal range. Some studies of the impulsivity-reflectivity cognitive style found that this style is stable over time and tasks, whereas other studies found that, as children progress through school, they generally become more reflective, and as a result, their academic performance may improve. Several other cognitive styles have been proposed, which are only listed here: equivalence range, category width, compartmentalization, conceptual integration, tolerance for unrealistic experiences, and scanning. It is generally agreed that accepting the concept of cognitive style has implications for how we view the teaching and learning process. With the dramatic changes in the means of communication (e.g., an increasing and widespread use of electronic media), educators need to adjust the means of providing service to students. These adjustments need to take into account students’ preferred cognitive styles to maximize and optimize learning for all students.


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