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Individual Differences in Field Dependence as a Factor in Auto Safety

Goodenough, Donald R.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Institute of Mental Health, Auto Safety, Cognitive Style, Field Dependence Independence, Individual Differences


The role of cognitive style as a factor in driver behavior is one area of auto safety research. The driver faces a perceptual task which requires constant cue discrimination in a dynamic field of visual-kinesthetic stimuli. The field-dependence dimension is the most widely studied of the cognitive styles and the only one which has been systematically related to auto safety. Therefore, the role of field dependence as a factor in driver behavior is considered here. Field independence is the capacity to overcome embedding contexts in perceptual functioning. Individuals differ widely in this. At the field-dependent extreme, perception is dominated by the immediately given organization (Gestalt) of the stimulus field. At the field-independent extreme, a stimulus field may be analyzed into its components. The field-dependence dimension is expressed in a wide variety of perceptual situations. A person who is relatively field dependent in one situation is likely to be equally field dependent in others. Five major studies have been done on the relationship between individual differences in field dependence and accident frequency. The field-dependent driver behaviors that may cause accidents and/or the field-independent behaviors that may avoid accidents remain to be specified. To review these studies, to call attention to methodological problems in the study of driver behavior in relation to field dependence, and to suggest several hypotheses concerning the role of field dependence in auto accidents in the hope that additional work may be stimulated is the purpose of this paper. There are three different approaches to studying driver behavior which leads to accidents. One involves observation of driver behavior under stimulated driving conditions. Another involves observing drivers while operating their cars under actual driving conditions. The third approach involves the classification of accidents based on a reconstruction of events which led up to accident incidents that have really happened. Field-dependent drivers are involved in more accidents than field-independent drivers. (SGK) (21pp.)

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