Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Cognitive Style Differences and Student Coping Behavior

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Cognitive Style Differences and Student Coping Behavior

Article excerpt


A number have researchers (Geisler, Wiedig-Allison and Weber, 2009; Friedel and Rudd, 2009; Samms and Friedel, (in press); Samuel and Kohun, 2010; Struthers, Perry and Menec, 2000), have attested to direct, indirect and even inverse relationships between cognitive style or coping and other factors. However, research has not documented existing relationships between the cognitive gap and coping behavior. This study, a continuation of a larger project, examined how dissimilarities in cognitive style between a college instructor and his or her undergraduate students may be associated with other variables believed to be salient to the teaching and learning process. The primary aim of this study therefore, was to find out if there were significant correlations between use of coping behavior as measured by the Coping Orientation of Problem Experience (COPE; Carver, Scheier & Weintraub, 1989) and cognitive style gap, measured utilizing Kirton's Adaption-innovation Inventory (KAI; Kirton, 1976), which provided a gap score between students and their instructors at [State University].

The objectives of this study were to:

1. Determine the cognitive style of faculty participants and cognitive style of student participants for the purpose of calculating cognitive-style gap utilizing the KAI.

2. Determine the use of coping strategies of undergraduate students as measured by the COPE

3. Examine the relationships between cognitive-style gap and undergraduate students' use of coping behavior.


The theory underlying this study--Kirton's Adaption-Innovation (AI) Theory--posited that when incongruence existed in cognitive styles between student and instructor, academic stress is generated (Kirton, 2003) and possibly negative emotion (Brown, Westbrook & Chagalla, 2005). This incongruence is a gap between styles of thinking; some more adaptive while others more innovative. A more adaptive person may solve problems by intently defining the problem and seeking solutions that may prove to be reliable and time-tested in improving efficiency with keen regard to the systems associated with the situation (Kirton, 2003). The more innovative person, however, may solve problems with a broad approach to defining the problem and developing many atypical solutions that tend to discard the conventional systems associated with the problem at hand (Kirton, 2003). A large gap of more than twenty points (as measured by the KAI) may lead to hindered communication between the student and the teacher, which has been found to cause stress for the individual trying to act in a cognitive style more congruent with the other person (Kirton, 2003). These preferences of thinking have been found to be innate and stable, as well as distinct from cognitive level, and the problem solving process (Kirton, 2003).

In the classroom, students may exert effort to cope with instructors having dissimilar cognitive styles, which can be stressful for the student. Motivation of the student drives coping behavior, which may be maintained with dependence on the length of time he/she was willing to cope (duration) and the degree of cognitive style dissimilarity to which the individual acts outside of the preferred behavior (intensity). In alignment with Kirton's (2003) theory, coping may be maintained for an amount of duration and intensity--whereas if motivation was lacking, a student may return to his or her preferred behavior. That is, unless coping behavior was implemented to bridge this cognitive-style gap, a student may continually experience academic stress from inhibited communication while interacting with his/her instructor.

Cognitive styles, as discussed, are preferences and often first response approaches to thinking. As such, it is agreeable that individuals could function outside his/her style preference (Kirton, 2003; McKeachie, 1995). Despite individual cognitive styles, students may learn or be taught strategies that would be useful to them in a situation where the teaching methods do not reconcile with their cognitive preference. …

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