An investigation into the relationship between children's cognitive style and their perception of the environment
This study considers relationships between the cognitive style identified by Witkin et al (1964) (ie analytic/field independence, as opposed to global/field dependence) and children's perceptions of their environment. Arising from a review of the literature, a variety of hypotheses were examined through an empirical investigation with 481 children aged between 10 and 13 and drawn from a rural and an urban environment. The results of the study raise questions about the conceptual inadequacy and empirical validity of the style identified by Witkin and further whether the tests used to identify the style can explain performance on map and environmental exercises. The inter-correlations between the three measures of cognitive style used in the study were comparatively low (Embedded Figures Test (E2T) with Rod and Frame Test (RFT) 0.4290 p< 0.01, Embedded Figures Test with Articulation of Body Concept Scale (ABC) 0.4392 p <0.01, RFT with ABC 0.3448 D <0.01) and the most regularly used measure of this particular cognitive style in previous research (FT) correlated more highly with intelligence (0.5982 p <0.01) particularly perceptual reasoning (0.5616 p-<0.01) and spatial ability (0.7333 p<0.01) than with RFT and ABC. In the investigation of 25 specific research hypotheses, a more positive relationship was demonstrated with the result of the Embedded Figures Test than with those of the RFT and ABC and it is suggested that this can be explained in terms of general intellectual ability. Similarly performance on the measures of environmental perception and mapping skill employed in the study appeared to be considerably influenced by general intelligence and more especially perceptual reasoning. The strong spatial/intellectual bias of the relationships identified in the research were confirmed in a principal components and multiple regression analysis of the results. In a follow up study of a representative group of extreme analytic/field independent individuals and extreme global/field dependent individuals it was possible to identify children who demonstrated capacities as described by Witkin, which were not dependent upon ability. In general, however, intelligence was the major differentiating factor between the two groups. Specific findings related to each of the research hypotheses are discuesed in detail in the text. The main findings of the study, however, appear to question the existence of the cognitive style identified by Witkin and the expectation of an association between cognitive style and environmental perception was not confirmed.