Malleability of cognitive style and its implications for management practice
The study examined the extent to which cognitive style is fixed or malleable. It involved a comparison of cognitive styles between the Chinese and British nationals to determine the effect of culture on cognitive style. The study also sought to explore the effect of acculturation on the way individuals process information. The contribution of the present research is to increase knowledge of cognitive style and the acculturation process. It provides information for industry and education about how training and development strategies could be designed to improve the success of international assignments. The research employed a multi-method methodology as a framework for the research. A longitudinal, quasi-experimental sample survey was conducted with 125 Chinese and 36 British subjects engaged in a postgraduate course in a British University. In this phase of the study, subjects completed the Allinson-Hayes Cognitive Style Index (CSI) twice over a six-month period. Based on these results, the research moved to Phase II to explore the relationship between cognitive style and a range of acculturation variables by adopting a cross-sectional sample survey and in-depth interviews. In the sample survey, interaction efficiency and acculturative stress were measured respectively by Ward's Sociocultural Adaptation Scale (SCAS) and Zung's Self-Rating Depression Scale (SRDS), and motivational orientation was measured by a range of self-developed questions. The final part of this second phase adopted inductive methodology and contained 19 follow-up semistructured interviews with specially selected participants to explore how crosscultural experience could affect cognitive style. Several key findings emerged from the research. First, differences were noted between home and Chinese subjects, and a further administration of the CSI after a period of six months showed a significant shift towards an analytical cognitive style for Chinese students but not for home students. This provided some support for the hypothesis that cognitive style is malleable. The pattern of change was not, however, consistent within the Chinese sample, and the overall change was not as anticipated. Second, past Western experience, pre-departure training and socialising with home nationals from motivational orientation were associated with the change in cognitive style. Third, while data from the sample survey do not support a correlation between interaction effectiveness and level of acculturative stress with a change in cognitive style, cross-cultural differences between the British and Chinese nationals were detected. This suggests that both nationals had different experiences which might influence their information processing style. Finally, results from interviews do point to possible directions for future research, e. g. perception of the host culture.