Individual Differences: How Field
Dependence-Independence Affects Learners
BY TERRY MUSSER
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A GENERAL DISCUSSION OF FIELD DEPENDENCE-INDEPENDENCE.........................................8
Research on Field Dependence-Independence and its Affect on Learning..........................9
Implications of Field Dependence-Independence for Education..................................12
Other Implications for Field Dependence-Independence.........................................15
WHAT AFFECTS FIELD DEPENDENCE-INDEPENDENCE?..................................................17
A DISCUSSION OF PERFORMANCE-BASED ASSESSMENT.................................................19
Fifty years ago, Witkin (1948) discovered that individual differences in the effects of visual
cues are not merely errors of method, but that people show remarkable consistency in degree of
field dependence on tests of orientation perception (Goodenough, 1986). After fiddling with a
perception test using rods and frames, Witkin finally developed the Embedded Figures Test to
determine the degree of field dependence or independence we each possess. No other cognitive
style has been more researched in our history than that of field dependence-independence. In
an effort to discover the importance of this cognitive style and its implications for education
and research, this paper begins with a general discussion of cognitive styles, including
taxonomies and definitions. A review of the article "Assessment Approaches and Cognitive
Styles" (Lu & Suen, 1995) follows as well as a look at specific characteristics of field
dependence-independence. The next two sections of this paper examine what effects field
dependence-independence has on people and what factors effect field dependence-independence.
Finally, the final section reviews assessment techniques and how they relate to cognitive style.
A General Discussion of Cognitive Styles
There are many different cognitive styles with the possibility of even more being identified
through research and theory. According to Witkin (1973):
In the earliest view, when observations of these styles were limited to the
cognitive domain, cognitive styles were conceived as the self-consistent modes of
functioning an individual shows throughout his perceptual and intellectual activities.
Today, we know that cognitive styles are, in fact, manifestations, in the cognitive domain,
of still broader dimensions of functioning, which cut across other psychological domains,
including personality and social behavior.
Put more simply, cognitive styles are actually broad personal styles which show typical ways in
which we process information. Some examples of cognitive styles that have been identified
include: reflectiveness versus impulsiveness (the tendency to react to situations slowly, after
examining several alternative responses, or rapidly with the first response that comes to mind);
cognitive complexity versus simplicity (the tendency to view the world along many or few
parameters; and tolerance for unrealistic experiences (the degree of comfort with experiences
that are out of the ordinary). (Bertini, 1986)
According to Cognitive Control Theory, (Jonassen & Grabowski, 1993) field dependence-
independence is not a cognitive style but a cognitive control. Cognitive controls are the
psychoanalytic entities that regulate perception. Cognitive styles define learner traits,
whereas cognitive controls "have the status of intervening variables that define principles
by which motoric behavior, perception, memory and other basic quantitative forms of cognitive
functioning are organized as an individual coordinates himself with his environment"
(Santostefano, 1978, p. 100). Cognitive controls, therefore, define a level of individual
differences that falls between mental abilities and cognitive styles. Mental abilities refer
to the content and level of cognitive activity, whereas styles refer to the manner and form of
learning. Abilities specify the competencies, the mental operations, and the kind of
information being processed, while styles are stated in terms of propensities. Abilities are
unipolar measures (less ability vs. more ability), whereas styles are bipolar (visual vs. verbal);
and abilities are value directional (that is more is better than having less), while styles
are value differentiated (neither pole is necessarily better). Another major difference is
that abilities are affected by the content domain or the nature of the task, while styles are
generalizable tendencies regardless of content. Finally, abilities enable learners to perform
tasks and styles control the way in which the task is performed. (see Table 1.)
Table 1. Jonassen's Classification of Cognitive Constructs
Category Types Examples
Second-order mental abilities Cattell's Crystalized/Fluid Intelligence
Mental Abilities Primary mental abilities Thurstone, Guilford's Structure of Intellect
Cognitive Flexibility Constricted vs. Flexible Control
Impulsivity/Reflectivity Cognitive Tempo
Cognitive Controls Focal Attention Scanning vs. Focusing
Category Width Breadth of Categorizing
Automatization Strong vs. Weak Automatization
Information Gathering Visual/Haptic
Information Organizing Serialist/Holist
Conceptual Style (Analytical/Relational)
Hill's Cognitive Style Mapping
Kolb's Learning Styles
Learning Styles Dunn & Dunn Learning Styles
Grasha-Reichman Learning Styles
Gregoric Learning Styles
Attentional and Engagement Styles Anxiety
Tolerance for Unrealistic Experiences
Expectancy and Incentive Styles Locus of Control
Extroversion vs. Introversion
Risk Taking vs. Cautiousness
Prior Knowledge Achievement
Cognitive controls, however, have characteristics of both abilities and styles. They are like
styles in that they are concerned with the manner and form of learning, they refer to
propensities and are stated in terms of typical behavior. They also reflect
information-processing techniques and are seen as controlling rather than enabling. They are
like abilities in that they are unipolar and are not value neutral. Controls are also like
abilties in that they are affected by content domains and tasks.
Witkin's theory of differentiation, developed later in his research (Witkin, et. al., 1979),
also recognized field dependence-independence as part of a hierarchical construct placement.
This theory was based on the knowledge that differences between field dependent and field
independent people reflect the higher-order construct of self-nonself segregation, which in
turn is a particular aspect of the still higher construct of psychological differentiation.
A more differentiated person shows more self-nonself segregation. As part of a more segregated
self are a more articulated body concept and a greater sense of personal identity. Overall,
the more segregated the self, the more likely a person is to be field independent, having
greater cognitive restructuring skills though fewer interpersonal competencies.
Regardless of the semantics for this phenomenon, cognitive controls, styles and abilities help
us understand individual differences in human cognition and behavior.
Lu, C., & Suen, H. (1995). Assessment approaches and cognitive styles. Journal of Educational
Measurement, 32, pp. 1 - 17.
This research addresses the issues surrounding the fair and equitable assessment of students
considering their individual differences, namely, field dependence versus field independence.
It has become more popular in current educational institutions to assess students on their
higher-order thinking within a specific context. This type of achievement measurement is known
as alternative or performance-based assessment. It contrasts the historically typical format of
using multiple-choice, fact-based instruments. A discussion later in this paper examines the
literature on performance-based assessment. Because studies have shown that field independent
students perform better on unstructured tasks than do field dependent learners, it was
hypothesized that the field independent student would perform better on performance-based
assessments which tend to be more ill-structured than multiple-choice tests. It was also
hypothesized that there would be no difference in performance between field independent students
and field dependent students on multiple-choice tests because these instruments tend to be very
102 undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory educational psychology class were
recruited for this study. Students were given six take-home assignments, considered to be
performance-based, and four multiple-choice tests. The relationship between the first two
take-home activities, the multiple-choice tests, and the cognitive styles of the participants
was analyzed. The cognitive styles of the students were measured using the Group Embedded
A substantial interaction between cognitive style and assessment approach was found in this
study. Field-independent students scored substantially higher on performance-based assessment
than did field-dependent students, whereas no such difference was found on the multiple-choice
test. Other potential variables such as task difficulty, writing ability and scoring metric
and equating procedure were ruled out.
The authors offered several examples of performance-based assessment answers to illustrate the
differences between field independent and field dependent participants. For the
intelligence-testing project, though field independent students tended to focus on gathering
evidence to infer about intelligence, field dependent students tended to report their subjects'
reaction to the testing situation and did not focus on the task of gathering evidence. In their
project reports, field dependent subjects focused on peripheral but socially relevant
information such as "She was very nervous and cautious when she was scanning the number," and
"She is my good friend so I know she is not good at verbal memory." Field independent students
were able to identify the relevant information in a problem in order to formulate a solution,
whereas field dependent students identified more perfunctory information that dealt more with
There is some discussion about the purpose for using performance-based assessment (PBA) and
whether or not it is appropriate. When implementing PBA to determine field dependent versus
field independent styles, PBA can be quite useful. If, however, PBA is used across the board
to determine achievement, its use is problematic.
The final paragraph of this article offers a caution to readers about the generalizability of
these results. Although these results reflected on these particular students taking specific
tests on specific domains, it is unknown whether or not the same results would be found in
different domains or with different instruments.
Critique: The methods for conducting the research in this article seem to be very sound. The
hypotheses were developed based on previous research on individual differences. There is little
other literature that discusses the relationships between cognitive style and performance on
various types of tests of achievement or knowledge. This article contributes to a better
understanding of the effects of field dependence-independence on education and cognition. The
methods used were sound and thorough, eliminating possible contributing variables. The results
give us practical information that can be put to use in the classroom.
There is one concern to be raised concerning this research. According to the literature (see
below) on performance-based assessment, the appropriate amount of assistance should be given to
each student to successfully achieve the task. Performance-based does not mean "do it alone on
your own time." It is unclear if this research included an adequate amount of assistance for
all students or if the rubrics for completing the tasks were valid and appropriate.
A General Discussion of Field Dependence-Independence
Before delving into a discussion of how field dependence-independence affects our lives, it is
important to take a general look at this cognitive control or style to gain a better
understanding. Field dependence-independence describes the extent to which:
· The surrounding framework dominates the perception of items within it,
· The surrounding organized field influences a person's perception of items within it,
· A person perceives part of the field as a discrete form,
· The organization of the prevailing field determines the perception of its components, or
· A person perceives analytically. (Jonassen & Grabowski, p. 86)
When field dependents interact with stimuli, they find it difficult to locate the information
they are seeking because other information masks what they are looking for. Field independents
find it easier to recognize and select the important information from its surrounding field.
When information is presented in an ambiguous, unstructured format, the field independent will
impose his/her own structure on the information. The field dependent will attempt to
understand and learn that information as it is presented and without restructuring it.
Another way to look at field dependence and independence is through a global versus articulated
cognitive style. Those with a global perspective, field dependents, see things in the entire
perceptual field (the forest rather than the trees). In other words, field dependents have
difficulty separating the part from the complex organization of the whole. The analytic style
presented by field independents allows them to create their own models for things they want to
understand or articulate to others.
Witkin combined the various dimensions of social and intellectual behavior into a Theory of
Psychological Differentiation (Witkin, et.al., 1962) which includes four dimensions:
global-articulate, articulation of body concept, sense of identity, and defense structures.
The most important aspect of Witkin's Theory is his belief that these are stable traits that
predict cognitive and social functioning across environments.
Research on Field Dependence-Independence and
its Affect on Learning
Implications for learning come from Witkin's third dimension which separates self from nonself.
These two dimensions most often describe the social and intellectual characteristics that impact
on learning and instruction. (Witkin & Goodenough, 1976). Field dependents rely on external
referents for psychological functioning while field independents rely on themselves as primary
referents. In accordance with that principle, the second principle then is that field
independents are capable of imposing their own cognitive structure on situations whereas field
dependents must be provided with an external structure.
With the framework provided by Witkin in mind, a number of studies have provided new insights
into the relevance of field dependence-independence on how students learn social material, the
use of mediators in learning, the effects of reinforcement, cue salience, how teachers teach,
how teachers and students interact, career differentiation, educational-vocational interests,
educational-vocational choices and achievement, and so on. The following synopsis captures
the most important research results that have implications for education:
· Goodenough (1976) concluded that field dependents are dominated by salient cues in
concept-learning tasks, use a "spectator" approach to learning, are more affected by negative
reinforcement, and are better at incidental learning of social information.
· Field independence predicted higher proficiency in learning Spanish, especially for field
independent females. (Hansen, 1980)
· Passing students were more field independent, whereas failing students and students who
dropped out of nursing courses were more field dependent (Goodfellow, 1980).
· Field dependents had more difficulty in abstracting relevant information from instruction
supporting more difficult learning tasks (Canelos, Taylor, & Gates, 1980).
· Across grades, field independence was correlated with higher mathematics achievement,
especially for concepts and application (Vaidya & Chansky, 1980).
· Field independents scored better on music reading tasks than field dependents (King, 1983).
· Field independents recalled significantly more from mathematical/scientific passages whereas
field dependents recalled more from socially oriented passages (Phifer, 1983).
· Field independents recalled more structural and functional information (equipment parts) than
field dependents (Skaggs, Rocklin, Dansereau, & Hall, 1990).
· Field independents achieved more on performance-based assessments than did field dependents
(Lu & Suen, 1995).
· James (1973) reported that the most field independent teachers gave field independent students
higher grades than field dependent students and the most field dependent teachers assigned the
highest grades to the field dependent students.
· Field-dependent children learned mathematics better from a field dependent instructor than
from a field independent teacher (Packer & Bain, 1978).
· Field independents learned the most in math lessons when given minimum guidance and maximum
opportunity for discovery, whereas field dependents profited most from maximum guidance
(Adams & McLeod, 1979; McLeod, 1978).
· Field dependent students taught by field independent teachers achieved more than field
dependent students taught by field dependent teachers (Jolly, 1980). All students learned more
from field independent teachers.
· Field independents learned more from an individualized, self-paced course than field
dependents (Wilborn, 1981).
· Field dependents achieved higher scores on a nutrition test after using highly structured
materials (presented in a logical order using a deductive sequence requiring written answers to
convergent questions), whereas field independents achieved more from the low-structured
treatment materials (Tannenbaum, 1982).
· When collaborative pairs of learners consisted of two field independents, they performed much
better than two field dependents (Frank & Davis, 1982). One of each produced intermediate
· Field independents were more efficient at taking notes in outline format than field
dependents, which improves their performance over field dependents (Frank, 1984). Frank found
that some combination of teacher-supplied organizational structure and training in note taking
will maximize the learning for field dependents. Rickards, et. al., (1997) found that field
dependents were able to elicit a powerful structure strategy for recall when allowed to take
notes while reading a passage.
· Text passages with headings improved scores for field dependent students, whereas field
independents scored better in passages without headings (Thompson, 1987).
Implications of Field Dependence-Independence for Education
Because of mixed findings concerning the affects of field dependence-independence on assessment
and the differences in achievement when the teacher's cognitive style is considered, more
research on the implications for cognitive style in education must be done. Is it better to
match instruction to the individual's cognitive style, or force the student to "stretch" and
adapt to a different style of learning? Is it better to group students with similar cognitive
styles with instructors of the same style or to mix them? Even Witkin himself was concerned
about locking people into instruction compatible with their cognitive styles. He spoke about
the possibility of producing change, flexibility, and mobility in cognitive styles by means of
appropriate training procedures. For example, field dependent people, who are likely to avoid
mathematics, perhaps should be taught mathematics by different methods and approaches adapted
to their cognitive style and by teachers whose teaching methods and cognitive styles are
congenial to field dependent students. (Bertini, 1986)
Based on the extensive research conducted on field dependence-independence, it is possible to
conclude that field dependent learners are more likely to excel at learning tasks such as:
· Group-oriented and collaborative work situations where individuals need to be sensitive to
social cues from others
· Situations where participants must follow a standardized pattern of performance
· Tests requiring learners to recall information in the form or structure that it was presented
· Knowledge domains that focus on social issues
Furthermore, field dependents should be able to use the following learning strategies
· Concentration on information
· Repetition or rehearsal of information to be recalled
Based on this same evidence, one can deduce that field independent learners will excel at
learning tasks such as:
· Problem solving, especially mathematics
· Situations in which learners must figure out the underlying organization of ideas in the
domain, such as concept mapping or outlining
· Language learning
· Identifying the salient or important aspects of any body of information, especially when that
information is ambiguous or disorganized
· Transfer tasks where operation must be transferred to novel situations
· Performance based assessment
Furthermore, field independents should be able to use the following learning strategies
· Selecting information sources
· Searching for and validating information
· Transferring knowledge (predicting, inferring, or evaluating)
· Generating metaphors and analogies
· Evaluating knowledge
· Analyzing information structurally
Educational conditions that should maximize learning for field dependents but challenge field
· Providing a social learning environment
· Offering deliberate structural support with cues such as advanced organizers
· Providing clear, explicit directions and a maximum amount of guidance
· Including orienting strategies before instruction
· Providing extensive feedback
· Presenting outlines or graphic organizers of content
· Providing examples
· Embedding questions throughout learning
Educational conditions that should maximize learning for field independents but challenge field
· Providing an independent learning environment
· Utilizing discovery teaching methods
· Providing large amounts of reference and resource materials to sort through
· Providing independent, self-instruction
· Providing minimal guidance and direction
· Creating outlines, pattern notes, concept maps, etc.
The following instructional methods should provide assistance to the field dependent:
· Well-organized, well-structured materials
· Pairing the field dependent student with the field independent student or teacher
· Providing lots of positive and negative feedback
· Limiting stress
· Offering structural models for a given field
· Beginning exercises with clear structure, abundant cues, consistent feedback; scaffolding as
the student progresses
· Asking learners to identify their own goals
· Providing many examples and nonexamples
The following instructional methods should provide assistance to the field independent:
· Pairing the field independent with a field dependent student or teacher
· Offering guidance, but not imposing structure
· Allowing student-directed learning
· Providing accessibility of supporting resources
· Providing team building exercises and demonstrating the power of synergy.
Other Implications for Field Dependence-Independence
The research shows that there are areas other than education that are affected by field
dependence-independence. Through development of his differentiation theory, Witkin believed
that field dependence-independence affected our personalities, with the field dependent having
more interpersonal skills than field independents.
Field independent people have been found to be less impulsive and direct in their expression of
the affective, both as children and adults, in a variety of studies using behavioral
observation, projective tests, and experimental tests (Korchin, p. 49).
In studies of motor inhibition, which require subjects to perform a simple and familiar action
as slowly as possible (writing one's name or walking a straight line), field independent people
are better able to inhibit and control their behavior. Research has also shown that hyperactive
children are characteristically field dependent.
Field independents have also been shown to have more control over their personal defenses.
The field independent favors isolation, intellectualization, and projection; whereas the field
dependent is more likely to use denial and repression. Similarly, people who tend to forget
their dreams, especially if they are stressful dreams, are more commonly found to be field
dependent. In clinical psychology settings, patients with depression were found to be more
field dependent and patients who were paranoid were found to be more field independent. People
with tendencies to form dependencies such as alcohol, obesity, and drug addiction are generally
field dependent, whereas patients with obsessive-compulsive characteristics, paranoia, and
schizophrenia tend to be field independent (Korchin, p. 51).
Most of the effects of the link between field dependence-independence and interpersonal behavior
can be understood as within the differing styles of information seeking. When information
seeking is not an issue, or when the information that is available is unambiguous, no
differences exist between field dependence and field independence in people (Oltman, 1986).
In general, when field dependent people need information, they tend to look to other people
while field independent people look within themselves. In a study of differences in
responsiveness to other people, subjects were paired in a laboratory according to field
dependence-independence: both members field independent, both members field dependent, or one
field independent with one field dependent (Oltman, Goodenough, Witkin, Freedman, & Friedman,
1975). In face-to-face dialogues, the pairs discussed issues about which they initially
disagreed, and they were asked to resolve their disagreements. Results indicated that the
presence of field independent members in the dyads reduced the frequency of conflict
resolutions. Dyads reached the most agreements when both partners were field dependent, an
intermediate number when one partner was field dependent and one field independent, and the
least agreement when both partners were field independent. In studies where participants were
asked to do difficult problem solving, field dependent participants tended to look more at the
experimenter than did field independents. It has also been found that field dependent people
prefer to be physically closer to those with whom they are interacting. Along these same
lines of inquiry (social information), field dependent people show better incidental recall
for the faces of others with whom they have interacted and tend to recall social aspects of
situations more than the nonsocial aspects. Field dependents are more likely to be self-
disclosing, to know more people and be known by more, and to prefer team to individual sports.
What Affects Field Dependence-Independence?
Thus far the discussion has focused on things that are effected by field dependence-
independence. There are a few factors, however, that effect the degree to which we are each
field dependent or independent.
Child Rearing Practices
Witkin believed that field dependence-independence tendencies result from child rearing
practices that emphasize gaining independence from parental controls (Korchin, 1986). The
early studies of child rearing done by Witkin showed that when there is strong emphasis on
obedience to parental authority and external control of impulses, the child will likely become
relatively field dependent. When there is encouragement within the family for the child to
develop separate, autonomous functioning, the child will become relatively field independent.
There is some evidence that socioeconomic status may effect field dependence-independence. In a
study conducted by a group of researchers at the University of Barcelona (Forns-Santacana,
Amador-Campos, & Roig-Lopez, 1993), the authors found significant differences in the scores
relating to the field dependence-independence variable, as measured by the Children's Embedded
Figures Test (CEFT), among subjects of different socioeconomic classes. Skills of perceptual
reconstruction that are necessary to solve the disembedding task of the CEFT appear less well
developed in the case of subjects of low socioeconomic class.
There is mixed evidence for the effect of sex on field dependence-independence. Studies of
children have not found any differences at all. However, in studies of adults when differences
between sexes and field dependence-independence are found, males always achieve scores that are
indicative of greater field independence. The effect of sex on field dependence-independence
is so small that this factor is practically insignificant.
There appears to be some effect of age on field dependence-independence. Children are
generally field dependent, but their field independence increases as they become adults. Adults
(especially adult learners) are more field independent (Gurley, 1984). After that time, field
independence gradually decreases throughout the remainder of life, with older people tending to
be more field dependent than their younger cohorts (Witkin et. al., 1971).
There may be evidence that there are neurophysiological differences in the brain based on field
dependence-independence. Silverman, Adevai and McGough (1966) showed that a group of left-
handed subjects were more field dependent that a group of right-handed subjects. Pizzamiglio
(1974) also found that ambidextrous subjects were more field dependent that right-handed
subjects. Because the right and left hemispheres of the brain function independently, these
studies predict that there are actual differences in the hemispheric lateralization between
field dependent and independent people.
A Discussion of Performance-Based Assessment
In light of the article that forms the central focus of this paper, it is necessary to include
a general discussion of performance-based assessment. Performance assessment, also known as
alternative or authentic assessment, is a form of testing that requires students to perform a
task rather than select an answer from a ready-made list. For example, a student may be asked
to explain historical events, generate specific hypotheses, solve math problems, converse in a
foreign language, or conduct research on an assigned topic. Experienced raters, either teachers
or other trained staff, then judge the quality of the student's work based on an agreed-upon set
of criteria called rubrics. This new form of assessment is most widely used to directly assess
writing ability based on text produced by students under test instructions. The following
examples are methods that have been used to successfully assess performance:
· Open-ended or extended response exercises are questions or other prompts that require students
to explore a topic orally or in writing. Students might be asked to describe their observations
from a science experiment, or present arguments on historic characters.
· Extended tasks are assignments that require sustained attention in a single work area and are
carried out over several hours or longer. Such tasks could include drafting, reviewing, and
revising a poem; conducting and explaining the results of a science experiment on photosynthesis;
or even painting a car in auto shop. This assignment to write a research paper on a selected
educational psychology topic could be considered an extended task under the performance-based
assessment umbrella. The grading policy could be considered a type of rubric.
· Portfolios are selected collections of a variety of performance-based work. A portfolio might
include a student's "best pieces" and the student's evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses
of several pieces. The portfolio may also contain some "works in progress" that illustrate the
improvements the student has made over time.
Because they require students to actively demonstrate what they know, performance assessments
may be a more valid indicator of students' knowledge and abilities. There is a big difference
between answering multiple choice questions on how to make an oral presentation and actually
making an oral presentation. More important, performance assessment can provide impetus for
improving instruction, and increase students' understanding of what they need to know and be
able to do. In preparing their students to work on a performance assessment task, teachers
describe what the task entails and the standards that will be used to evaluate performance.
This requires a careful description of the elements of good performance, and allows students to
judge their own work as they proceed.
Performance assessments are criterion-referenced. Wiggins (1992) proposes eight basic criteria
to be used for developing the assessment.
1. The tasks should be meaningful and worth testing. Typical classroom tests tend to assess
knowledge and content. The higher-order thinking skills, problem-solving, or the process
involved in obtaining an answer are less frequently considered.
2. The set of tasks should be a valid sample that gives insight into students' overall
performance. For example, a writing assignment occurring over three or four days, with revisions
being completed and each draft being graded is preferable to completing the task in one session.
3. The scoring criteria should be authentic, allotting or withholding points for essential
successes and errors. Students should be provided with the criteria and models of excellent
performance as part of instruction.
4. The standards for anchoring the scoring should be credible and appropriate. Scoring rubrics
should represent generalizations about the traits found in a group of standards of performance
for individual tasks.
5. The context of the problems should be realistic with the constraints on time and resources
minimized. The context is realistic if it supports a variety of solutions and styles and
requires good judgement to put it all together.
6. The tasks should be validated. It is important that all students receive standard
instructions during administration, and that the amount of assistance provided, and the responses
given to student questions is an acceptable level.
7. The scoring should be reliable and feasible. Pilot some or all of the tests.
8. The results should be reported and used so that all customers for the data are satisfied.
Make sure that the reports reflect achievement in reference to the outcomes and include what the
student can do and to what level of performance.
Because of the relative newness of performance assessment and the potential difficulties
associated with changing from a curriculum-based assessment model, it may be more realistic for
teachers to begin blending the two methods. By combining the use of curriculum-based assessment
and performance assessment, teachers may enhance the richness of the date available for
instructional decision-making (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1993). They can broaden their assessment focus to
include skill acquisition as well as skills application and integration within rich, authentic
contexts and can increase their range of instructional options.
Although it appears that field dependence-independence is a field rich in research and writing,
it is an area that will never be exhausted of new topics to explore. Field dependence-
independence has implications for many practitioners and researchers, however, the conclusions
for the implications for education are most interesting to me. It appears that the knowledge of
individual and group differences based on field dependence-independence is cemented in the realm
of research and hasn't quite been exploited in the practical world. Teachers and teacher
educators do not appear to be testing students for field dependence-independence, and yet it is
so critical to what goes on in the classroom. The students behavior, ability to organize
information, need for assistance and guidance, performance on certain types of tests, and ability
to comprehend assignments are all effected by field dependence-independence. The fact that the
teacher's cognitive tendency towards field dependence or independence effects how much the
students will learn should encourage educators to take this phenomenon more seriously.
One concern not addressed in the literature relates to the newer teaching methods and techniques
that are being described in literature and research and taught to pre-service teachers and their
effect on students who are field dependent. The Lu & Suen article showed that field dependent
students do not perform as well on performance-based assessments. Other research showed that
field dependents need a lot of structure and assistance which is not part of the discovery or
inquiry model of learning currently becoming popular.
As often as Witkin indicated that one style is not "better" than another, one can't help but
notice how much the field independent student is favored in education in this body of research.
I found myself comparing my own preferences and styles to those identified in the research and
wondering if I had the "good" qualities or the "bad". Although the social functioning of field
dependents was superior to field independents, how important is social functioning compared to
academic functioning in our society? Based on this research, one might conclude that our culture
favors field independents in terms of job status, pay, education achieved, etc. There were some
hints that field independence can be increased with further education, but that simply
perpetuates the inequality that already exists. It was also implied in the reading that
individuals may either be both field dependent and independent, and at least neither very strong
field dependent or independent, but no research in this area was found.
The study of field dependence-independence began fifty years ago and continues today. When this
cognitive style was first defined, the education system in the United States was well established
and somewhat stable. In other words, tried and true methods of instruction were in place that
could be examined in research and practice. Today's educational system is beginning to shift
toward more authentic, context-laden paradigms in which the learner is an active participant.
Students today are being asked what they want to learn and encouraged to set their own goals for
educational attainment. There is less structure in the classroom imposed by the teacher and the
educational system and students are required to develop their own structures. Although, in
theory, these new instructional methods appear to add value to what the student is learning
because the student is free to develop his/her own meaning, these methods may put students who
are unable to function well with less structure at a disadvantage: namely the field dependent
student. The following recommendations are offered for addressing some of these concerns in the
· Researchers must now examine the affects of field dependence-independence on the student's
ability to achieve and perform with less structure in the classroom. Students in non-traditional
classrooms, such as charter schools and alternative programs, should be studied to determine if
field dependent students are at a disadvantage.
· Teacher educators, when introducing pre-service teachers to new ways of teaching and assessing
students, must caution them about providing assistance and external structures for those students
who are unable to function within these arenas.
· There is also the possibility that methods could be developed that would teach field dependent
people to be better able to develop structures and support in ill-structured learning situations.
· Research should be expanded to include a look at field dependence-independence over the life
span. If one could discover how adults become more field independent, especially those who
further their education, it might be possible to apply that information to helping field
dependent children act more field independent in appropriate settings.
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