Dimensions of cognitive style: Integrating definitions and improving measurement

Date of Completion

January 2001


Education, Educational Psychology|Psychology, Personality|Psychology, Cognitive




Essential to the direction of educational research is knowledge of the factors that determine academic success. While statistics focus upon groups, it is the individual who faces the challenge of learning. Thus, the study of individual differences has always been of interest in the field of education. One important aspect of individual difference research is cognitive style, a term that refers to characteristic ways of dealing with information. ^ The concept of cognitive style has had an erratic history despite its potential value to education. Research efforts have been directed toward competing definitions, which have arisen from a variety of sources. Despite suggestive similarities among the many existing cognitive style theories, there has been little progress toward synthesizing definitions and identifying quality instrumentation to reflect these definitions. Without a comprehensive theory to organize research and clarify results, the field has remained fragmented. As a result, the potential value of cognitive style has not been realized. The goal of this study was to uncover ways to tap that potential by searching for commonalities, integrating definitions, and improving their measurement. ^ In order to achieve this goal, 50 years of cognitive style research was examined in order to identify similarities, differences, and semantic ambiguities. By drawing upon a synthesis of prominent theories, an instrument was constructed, capable of measuring six separate styles. The styles measured by the new Cognitive Orientation Index (COI) followed the general structure and terminology of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a popular personality/cognitive style instrument, while including elements found in several cognitive style approaches, with an emphasis on information processing. ^ This instrument was administered to 494 undergraduates at two Northeastern universities. The results of both an exploratory factor analysis and a confirmatory factor analysis supported a theoretical base for cognitive style in the form of analytic and intuitive processing of association, evaluation, and expression. ^ Implications are discussed for cognitive style theory and measurement as well as for future research into the academic and vocational interests of college students. ^