The nature of cognitive style and its relationship to educational performance

  • Timothy J. Lowe

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


A survey is made of the literature relating to a number of dimensions of cognitive style, from which it is concluded that cognitive style has a strong theoretical potential as a predictor of academic performance. It is also noted that there have been few attempts to relate co gnitive style to academic performance, and that these have met with limited success. On the assumption that theories of individual differences should be congruent with theories of general functioning, an examination is made of the model of cognition presupposed by ,dimen sions of cognitive style. A central feature of this model is the distinction between cognitive content and cognitive structure. The origins of this distinction are traced back to the normative and experimental or quasi-experimental characteristics of research in psychology. The validity of the distinction is examined with reference to modern research findings, and the conclusion is drawn that the norma~ive experimental method is an increasingly inappropriate tool of research when applied to higher levels of cognitive functioning, as it cannot handle subject idiosyncracy or patterns of interaction. An examination of the presuppositions of educational research leads to the complementary
conclusion that the research methods imply an oversimplified model of the educational situation. Two empirical studies are reported: (1) An experiment using conventional cognitive style dimensions as predictors of performance under two teaching methods (2) An attempt to predict individual differences in overall academic performance by means of a research technique which uses a questionnaire, intra-individual scoring, and an analysis of patterns of responses, and which attempts to take some account of subject idiosyncracy. The implifications of these studies for fUrther research are noted.
Date of Award1973
Original languageEnglish


  • cognitive style
  • educational performance

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