Cognitive Styles

The term cognitive style is used in the field of psychology to refer to how individuals process information. It does not relate to an individual's level of intelligence but specifically revolves around the process and actions humans take to use information and stimuli.

There are a number of theories about cognitive styles. Many believe that to categorize styles hinders the breadth of styles that are in the world today. In addition, many view cognitive style as a single element of how we conduct ourselves while others view it as multidimensional. Examples of cognitive styles are often seen in the classroom. As students begin studying in school, there are often correlations between teachers and students who have similar cognitive styles. If this is the case, the student will often enjoy that teacher's lecture or class more than a student with a different cognitive style.

Through the years, a number of tools have been developed to help measure cognitive styles. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an important tool that is often cited in the development of the cognitive styles field.

Cognitive Style Analysis (CSA) is a computerized test that reviews an individual by looking at two aspects of that individual's personality: Verbal-Imagery (V-I) and Wholist-Analytic (W-A). The former looks at an individual's process when reviewing and considering information. There are typically two groups of individuals in this process. The first will pull apart aspects of a message into its components, and the second group will maintain a high-level view of information reviewed. The V-I dimension describes the way individuals process information when they are thinking. This also works in two groups. The first talk about the message out loud and understand information through verbal associations, and the second group represent the message visually, often through graphics and pictures. In order to get an accurate gauge on an individual, the CSA test is further divided into small tests that help compare the length of time it takes individuals to respond to different types of stimuli.

As research into cognitive styles progressed, two primary cognitive styles emerged -- convergent and divergent thinkers. Convergent thinkers are good at sourcing data from a number of areas in order to solve a specific problem. Conversely, divergent thinkers are more creative in nature and think broadly about subjects to resolve an issue. These two styles focus more on how information is consolidated and gathered versus how it is acquired. Through time, this has demonstrated differences in individual personalities as some individuals focus on thinking logically about problem-solving while others view it as a creative challenge that requires more collaboration and exploration.

Following these two straightforward views on cognitive styles, James Beiri developed more complex cognitive theories that highlight the complexity of human beings. The two main theories that explore this complexity are the Driver's Decision Style Exercise (DDSE) and the Complexity Self-Test Description Instrument. As both are quite new theories, they are not used very frequently in comparison to other tests.

Michael Kirton developed a frequently used a model of cognitive styles called the adaption-innovation theory. This theory uses a continuum to rank the level of adaptation or innovation an individual displays to solve problems. Individuals who are adaptors by nature have a preference for the adaptive approach, and innovators have a preference for innovative problem-solving techniques. Adaptors will use available resources and adapt their problem-solving strategies to these resources while innovators will look for creative ways to solve their problems through innovative ideas. The goal of an adaptor is performance, and doing well is important to these individuals. In contrast, innovators are more concerned with doing things differently and providing a unique solution to a problem.

Michael Kirton also contributed a cognitive styles tool that is readily used by a number of individuals in the field today. The Kirton Adaptation-Innovation Inventory (KAI) is a ranking tool that lists approximately 32 traits. Critics state that this tool provides little insight into true cognitive styles as it highlights the extremes of high innovation and high adaptation and provides little detail of the area that lies in between.

Cognitive Styles: Selected full-text books and articles

Perspectives on Thinking, Learning, and Cognitive Styles By Robert J. Sternberg; Li-Fang Zhang Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Relationship between Dissimiliar Cognitive Styles and Use of Learning Strategies in Undergraduate Students By Samms, Chevanese L.; Friedel, Curtis R Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, Vol. 16, No. 3, September 2012
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Student Reactions to Assignment Structure: Examining the Influence of Cognitive Style By DePaolo, Concetta A.; Sherwood, Arthur Lloyd; Robinson, David F Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, Vol. 13, No. 4, October 1, 2009
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Effect of Dysfunctional Conflict on Learning Performance: The Role of Cognitive Style By Miao, Min-Chih; Tien, Ching-Ting; Chang, Huo-Tsan; Ko, Yu-Yuan Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Vol. 38, No. 2, March 2010
Handbook of Individual Differences, Learning, and Instruction By Barbara L. Grabowski; David H. Jonassen Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
Librarian's tip: Part IV "Cognitive Styles"
Implications of Students' Cognitive Styles for the Development of Argumentation Skills By Hunt, Stephen K.; Meyer, Kevin R.; Lippert, Lance R Argumentation and Advocacy, Vol. 42, No. 3, Winter 2006
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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