Cognitive Styles

We will start with some formal definitions of what is cognitive style about. Do not bother if you do not catch immediately the meaning of this concept. Certainly, you will feel more comfortable with this at the end of the unit.

The term cognitive style is associated with stable, traitlike consistency in personal approach to attending, perceiving, and thinking. Or, cognitive styles are particular personality determined modes of perceiving, remembering, thinking, and problem solving. Another definition - cognitive styles represent stable traits that distinguish the learners according to consistencies in interacting with environment. Cognitive styles might be understood better by comparing them to construct of cognitive ability within a dichotomy based conceptual framework.

Cognitive Styles and Cognitive Abilities

Content and level of cognition versus Mode of cognition

Intellectual ability refers to content and level of cognition (What? and How much?). Cognitive style reflects manner or mode of cognition (How?).

Unipolarity versus Bipolarity

Ability is a unipolar construct. High amounts of ability are always preferable. There is not enough theoretical and empirical ground to insists that one pole of particular cognitive style is a better that another one.

Particular domain versus Cut across domains

Ability is a specific for a particular domain of content or functions (verbal, numerical, spatial, or memory). Cognitive style cut across content and functions.

Product-oriented versus Process oriented

Cognitive abilities are product oriented with the emphasis put on the speed and the accuracy of responses while cognitive styles are process oriented with the emphasis put on the typical patterns of psychological functions and processes.

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Short descriptions of the most referred cognitive styles

Field Dependence - Field Independence

Field dependence/independence refers to the extent to which a learner perception is influenced by environment or context (Witkin, Moore, Goodenough & Cox). Field dependent students experience difficulties to find the information they are looking for because other contextual stimuli tend to impede it. Field independent learners easy distinguish the relevant information from surrounding it components. Field independents are more likely to create their own models when trying to understand a perceived field. The field dependants are more fixed to the explanation format that has been proposed and have a tendency to accept  information without restructuring and reorganizing it. In summary, field dependants prefer more structured learning environment with well-organised material, while field independents prefer a learning context with a minimal direction and maximum resources.

Serialist - Holist

Holist/Serialist cognitive style has been defined according to the two different ways of selecting and organising information in learning complex subject matter: building an overview of the topic itself or building concrete operations (Pask). Holist prefers a global approach to a material using broad descriptions. She/he tends to relate everything with everything in a complex multilevel information structure. This is a hypotheses-driven style. Serialist uses step-by-step approach focused on details and procedures. This is a data-driven style.

Impulsivity - Reflectivity

Impulsivity/Reflectivity distinguishes the people according to the tendency of postponing initial response and reflecting on it before answering rather than the tendency of quick, impulsive response (Kagan). Impulsive people, by rule, respond faster and make more mistakes, while reflectors answer slower but commit fewer performance errors. Reflective people tend to analyse the information and generate several alternatives before going to implementation. Impulsive people go straightway to implementation of the first idea that has come in mind.

Verbiliser - Visualiser

Verbaliser /Visualiseer cognitive style measures the preference of people to attend and organise visual or verbal information (Kirby, Moore & Schofield). Some people learn better from diagrams, graphics and pictures, while others prefer to process information by reading or listening. The immediate educational implication of the empirical research on this cognitive style is the deliberate attempt to build a learning environment with both visual and verbal stimuli.

Some additional information about cognitive style phenomena are provided in the space below.

Myers-Briggs conception of style is a rather popular. It is a revival of the idea of psychological types of Karl Jung and temperament's types of Hippocrate, Kretschmer and Adler. The main dispositions of the Myers-Briggs styles are Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. The Myers-Briggs Inventory distinguishes 16 patterns of action.

Kersey on the line of the same theoretical perspective identified by the Temperament Sorter 32 mixed types, which are clustered to four temperament types. Metaphorically, they sound like Appolo, Dionysus, Prometheus, and Epimetheus.

Sternberg introduced the cognitive construct of thinking styles as an intersection between intelligence and personality. Thinking style is not ability, but rather a preferred way of expressing or using one or more abilities. People may have same level of ability, but to be very different in styles. Sternberg developed the self-government theory, which represents the theoretical background of the styles. He uses the metaphor of the government conducting style in intention to describe what the thinking styles are about. The assumption behind this classification is that the styles of government are external reflection of the styles in the mind. The theory tries to deal with the functions, forms, levels, scope and leanings of government as applied to the individual. According to function criteria the thinking styles are legislative, executive and judical. The forms are monarchic, hierarchic, oligarchic and anarchic. Government functions at multiple levels are federal, state, country, city, and so on, but they can be reduced to more global categories - global and local. The correspondence levels of mind are also global and local. Depending on the scope, the mind styles are internal and external. The leanings of mental self-government are conservative and progressive.

Rayner and Riding proposed an integration of style models into two cognitive style families - the Wholist-Analytic and the Verbaliser-Imager. In the former they included the styles like Field Dependency/Field Independency (Witkin et al), Impulsivity/Reflectivity (Kagan at al), Convergent/Divergent (Guilford), Holist/Serialist (Pask and Skott), The Style Delineator (Gregoric), Assimilator/Explorer (Kaufmann), Adaptor/Innovator (Kirton), Cognitive Style Index (Allinson & Hayes). The very representative of the Verbaliser-Imager cognitive style family is Verbaliser/Visualiser style (Paivio).

You also might meet the classification that distinguishes between cognitive controls and cognitive styles (Jonassen and Grabowski). Cognitive controls have different theoretical principles and assumptions than cognitive styles. Cognitive control represents the level of individual differences, which come about between ability and cognitive style and therefore shares the characteristics of both. Cognitive controls are concerned with manner and mode of learning, like cognitive styles, not with content, like abilities. They are controlling as cognitive styles, but are not enabling, like abilities. Cognitive controls are unipolar and value directed, like ability and unlike cognitive styles.

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