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The Role of the Field Dependent and Field Independent Cognitive Styles in Academic Evolution: A Longitudinal Study

Friedman, Florence; Goodenough, Donald R.; Moore, Carol Ann; Oltman, Philip K.; Witkin, Herman A.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Graduate Record Examinations Board, National Institute of Mental Health, Cognitive Style, College Students, Field Dependence Independence, Longitudinal Studies, Majors (Students)


To assess hypotheses derived from field dependence theory about the role of cognitive style in students' academic choices, stability of choices, and achievement, a large group of students was followed longitudinally from college entry, through college graduation and into graduate/professional school. As predicted, in their preliminary preferences at college entry, final college majors and graduate/professional school specialties, relatively field independent students favored impersonal domains which require cognitive restructuring skills (e.g., mathematics and the natural sciences) and relatively field dependent students favored interpersonal domains which do not emphasize such skills (e.g., elementary and early childhood education). Cognitive style related more strongly to final college majors and graduate/professional school specialties than to preliminary preferences at college entry. This outcome was in part a result of the tendencies of students whose preliminary choices were incongruent with their cognitive styles to shift to more compatible domains and of students with initially congruent choices to remain with those choices. In most analyses cognitive style contributed to prediction of academic choices and stability of choices beyond the contribution made by scholastic aptitude measures. Some tendency was found for students to do better in domains compatible with their cognitive styles, though field dependence was unrelated to such general achievement indicators as high school and college grade-point averages. (43pp.)

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