Role of cognitive style in children's performance on Piagetian tasks
Recently interest has focussed on Witkin's notion of cognitive style (Goodeneough 1978, Donaldson 1982, Messick 1982). Witkin's development of differentiation theory arose from studies concerning the way people orientate their bodies in space and is closely related to the individual's perceptual ability. Field-dependence/field-independence theory is primarily concerned with how people deal with information about the world rather than with how much or how well they do so (Goodenough 1978). Links (Case and Pascual-Leone 1975, Satterly 1979, Huteau 1980) were cited between the work of Piaget and Witkin. Goodenough (1978) wrote that the field-dependence dimension could be identified in problem-solving situations that seemed to require re-structuring. Some of the best illustrations of re-structuring problems come from the work of Piaget. As perceptual demands and materials of Piagetian conservation tasks and characteristics of Witkin's field-dependence/field-independence notion seemed well related it was hypothesised that a relationship might exist between children's performances on Piagetian tasks and their responses to Witkin measures of cognitive style. The study was of a longitudinal design. Four consecutive testing situations at three month intervals aimed to compare children's (N = 65) performance on a battery of six Piagetian conservation tasks (two each of length, area and horizontal/vertical frames of reference) with these same six-seven year old children's scores for two Witkin measures of field-dependence, the Children's Embedded Figures Test (CEFT) and the Draw-a-Figure Test (DAF). As field-dependent subjects are thought to respond to, and process more easily, information presented them in a social or personal manner, one Piagetian task of each of the three areas, length, area and horizontal/vertical frames of reference, was presented in a 'social' manner while the other was administered in an 'impersonal' or abstract manner reported by Witkin et al (1974) as more easily accomplished by field-independent persons. Results of the study gave some limited support to the hypothesis that a relationship might exist between children's performances on Piagetian tasks and their responses to Witkin's Children's Embedded Figures Test. It was also apparent that a majority of children, whether field-dependent or field-independent, were more successful in accomplishing the Piagetian tasks presented in a 'social' manner than they were at accomplishing those presented in an 'impersonal' fashion. Further, the two Witkin measures of cognitive style (CEFT and DAF) did not correlate. Vernon (1972), Bawd (1975) and Satterly' (1976) also have not found agreement between these two Witkin measures of field-dependence. The implications of the study call attention to the complexity of factors which contribute to the teaching/learning situation and of the need for further work relating style or method of presentation to the content of the material.