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Origins of the Field Dependent and Field Independent Cognitive Styles

Goodenough, Donald R.; Witkin, Herman A.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Institute of Mental Health, Cognitive Style, Cultural Influences, Field Dependence Independence, Genetics, Individual Differences, Literature Reviews


The literature on sources of individual differences in field dependence-independence is reviewed and findings on ontogenetic development and cross-cultural differences are incorporated into the theory of psychological differentiation. During the growth years, individuals develop toward greater field independence. Hormonal and x-linked genetic factors may influence development of specific cognitive components of the field dependence-independence dimension. It is clear from a wide variety of data that the development of field independence is enhanced by appropriate training programs, child-rearing practices which encourage separation from parental authority, and "loose" social structures which permit individual autonomy. Among subsistence-level societies, members of nomadic hunting groups tend to be more field independent than members of sedentary farming groups. Viewed from an ecocultural perspective, this finding suggests a progression from relative field independence toward relative field dependence as cultural forms changed from early hunting to later agricultural economies. That developmental changes may proceed in opposite directions in the course of ontogeny and during cultural history is compatible with the bipolar conception of cognitive styles: the cognitive restructuring skills of field independent individuals and the social-interpersonal competencies of field dependent individuals have adaptive value in different life circumstances. (Author/MV) (81pp.)

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