The current study was designed to test whether an impulsive response style affects performance on computer-administered multiple-choice tests and whether the consequences of such a response style are amenable to modification. The Matching Familiar Figures Test (MFFT) for adults was used to classify participants as either impulsive or reflective responders. Response time and accuracy measures were recorded as participants completed 2 multiple-choice tests. Half of the participants worked at their own pace and half were forced to delay their responses. Overall, the impulsive responders tended to answer questions more quickly and less accurately than the reflective responders. However, when the impulsive responders were forced to delay their response, accuracy improved to the level of their more reflective peers.
An individual's tendency to respond either impulsively or reflectively when presented with more than one response option, has been a subject of study for several decades. Kagan (1966) has used the term cognitive style to refer to the tendency to respond in either a reflective or impulsive manner. Cognitive style has been characterized as a cognitive trait that may, in part, account for individual differences in the quality of problem solving. Measurement of the trait has typically involved tasks requiring selection of a correct solution from among several response alternatives, with the latency and accuracy of responses recorded for each item. Most of the research on reflective-impulsive responding has focused on individuals who exhibit either a rapid-inaccurate (impulsive) response style or a slow-accurate (reflective) response style (e.g., Kagan, 1966; Egeland, 1974), although rapid-accurate and slow-inaccurate responders have also been identified (Kogan, 1983).
Yando and Kagan (1970) have suggested that reflective-impulsive cognitive styles are a stable trait and a better predictor of children's test-taking success than other indicators, such as intelligence. Messer and Brodzinsky (1981) found the trait to be meaningful and generally stable through early adolescence, and Kogan (1983) suggested that it might be applicable with adults as well, although research with adults has been limited. In one study, Phillips and Rabbitt (1995) determined that the tendency to respond impulsively is a stable characteristic apparent in certain adults' performance and that it exists independent of measured intelligence and extraversion.
Numerous studies have examined the impact of reflective-impulsive response styles on academic performance, especially with school-aged children. Those studies have indicated that reflective children, who take time to develop a solution hypothesis, commit fewer errors than impulsive children, who tend to focus on one solution without adequately considering the alternative solutions (e.g., Egeland, 1974). Kagan, Pearson, and Welch (1966) observed that impulsive children have a tendency to rapidly offer many answers without adequately considering the question. Kagan et. al claimed that an impulsive response style handicaps children in academic settings in which teachers tend to have a low tolerance for incorrect answers.
Students who have been classified as impulsive responders have also been found to have difficulty monitoring reading comprehension, particularly if they are asked to attend to detailed information. Walczyk and Hall (1989) found that, across reading levels, reflective children were better at detecting text inconsistencies and recalling text information than impulsive children. Consequently, Walczyk and Hall argued that reflective children experience more success with school-related tasks because they have developed an analytic style of reading that focuses on systematically assimilating and integrating detailed information.
Although cognitive response style has been characterized as a stable trait, researchers have attempted to alter response styles through a variety of strategies. …