Associations among Field Dependence-Independence, Sports Participation, and Physical Activity Level among School Children

By Liu, Wenhao; Chepyator-Thomson, Jepkorir Rose | Journal of Sport Behavior, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Associations among Field Dependence-Independence, Sports Participation, and Physical Activity Level among School Children


Liu, Wenhao, Chepyator-Thomson, Jepkorir Rose, Journal of Sport Behavior


Field dependence-independence (FDI), simply put, is the tendency to rely on external frames (given situations and significant or authoritative others) or internal frames (oneself and one's own body) for one's information processing and behavior. Those who are likely to rely on external referents, or "fields", as guides in information processing are field-dependent (FD) individuals. They are more interpersonally oriented and more able to get along with others, but function less autonomously and seem likely to adhere to the field. On the other side of the continuum are those who have the tendency to use internal frames, including body information such as kinesthetic feedback and proprioceptive awareness, for their information processing and are classified as field-independent (FI) individuals. They are more autonomous in decision-making and behaviors, have a more articulated body concept, and are more sensitive to body information (Witkin & Goodenough, 1977, 1981).

The originally operational definition of FDI is the Rod-and-Frame Test with which the extent to use body information or be influenced by "field" is examined (Witkin et al., 1954). The test requires the test taker to adjust a tilted rod, which is in the middle of a tilted square frame, to a physically vertical position without a correct reference of verticality. Those who tend to use internal frames for information processing (FI individuals) rely more on the sense of verticality in their body and can adjust the tilted rod autonomously to a relatively vertical position, ignoring the disturbance of the tilted square frame. Those who tend to use external frames for information processing (FD individuals) are usually influenced by the tilted square frame and hesitant in adjustment, resulting in a relatively big deviation from the verticality in the rod adjustment. Thus, people with smaller deviations from the verticality in the rod adjustment are defined as FI individuals and those with bigger deviations as FD individuals (Witkin et al., 1954).

Because sport engagement also demands the accurate sensing of body information for adjusting body and limb positions and requires autonomy in decision-making in the fast movement, the possible meaningfulness of FDI in sports selection and sport performance was raised by some researchers in early 1970s (Kane, 1972; Meek & Skubic, 1971). That is, relatively FI individuals, who would tend to use internal frames for information processing, might have some preference in sport selection and advantage in sport performance. Since then many studies have been triggered investigating the associations of FDI in sport-related settings.

FDI and Sports Selection

The relationship of FDI to sports selection has been a research area and most researchers have tried to testify that field independence is in favor of the athletes in closed-skill sports rather than those in open-skill sports. Closed-skill sports occur in predictable and stable environments in which no body can directly disturb the athlete's performance. The athletes in these sports perform based primarily on their own sense of internal receptors or proprioceptors (body information). The examples of these sports are swimming and gymnastics. Open-skill sports take place in unpredictable and changeable (open) situations in which the opponents can directly disturb the athlete's performance. The athletes in these sports perform according largely to a moment-to-moment changeable environment. The examples of these sports are various ball games.

Given the contrasting information processing required (using internal frames versus using external frames) in the performance in closed- and open-skill sports, Kane (1972) argued that field independence could be an advantage for athletes in closed-skill sports, which have a higher requirement in using internal (body) information. This argument has received continuous support in many studies demonstrating that the athletes in closed-skill sports are more FI than those in open-skill sports.

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