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Title: Cognitive styles as a function of locus of control
Author: Mohanna, Amer Hassan
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 1978
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This research began as an examination of the problem solving strategies of individuals who believe they can control reinforcements they recelve (internals) and those who believe that outside forces control reinforcements (externals) under different conditions of skill and chance. This developed into a study of the cognitive functioning of internals and externals in concept formation tasks. Internal and external persons were identified using the internal-external locus of control scale developed by J.B. Rotter and his colleagues. Three studies were conducted uSlng different tasks and groups of Subjects. The subjects of the first study were required to find a principle relating one of two response words to a list of five stimulus words. There were fifty trials using different sets of words. Three groups of subjects were used, each made up of internals and externals. The group under the skill condition was instructed that their performance depended primarily on their own skill; the group under the chance 1 condition (quasi chance) was instructed that their performance on the task would probably be no better than chance due to the extreme difficulty of the task; and the group under chance 2 (pure chance) were told that their performance on the task was totally controlled by chance as the arrangement of the words was purely arbitrary. It was expected that internals would perform better than externals under the skill condition while externals would perform better than internals under chance 2. Subjects' perception of, and reactions to, the task were measured by a post-task questionnaire. The results did not uphold the predictions. Externals, relative to internals, utilised, produced and changed significantly more solution hypotheses while working on the task. The two groups did not differ in the number of correct answers and both of them were unsuccessful in deciphering the principle. In terms of subjects' reactions to the task, it was found that the internals reacted differently to the skill and chance 2 conditions, while externals were stable across these conditions. Moreover, subjects construed the chance 1 condition as resembling a skill condition. The different ways ln which internals and externals handled their solution hypotheses was further investigated in the second study. Two groups, one of internals and one of externals, were asked to scan a list of characteristics describing an object, and then to scan another list containing objects, one of which was best described by the characteristics. The two lists were presented separately to the subjects in order to discover whether subjects needed to switchback between the two lists while attempting to identify the correct object. The subjects' reaction times in studying the characteristics (preparation time) and in naming the appropriate objects (solution time) were recorded. The subjects' perception of and reactions to the task were measured by a post-task questionnaire. The results strongly supported the predictions: the internals preparation and solution times were significantly faster than those of the externals who also used more switchbacks than internals. Moreover, both groups performed equally well on the task (in terms of naming the appropriate objects). Analysis of the subjects' perception of the task indicated that internals perceived the task to be more skill controlled than externals. The third study was conducted to clarify some methodological problems associated with the first study and to further investigate the problem solving behaviour of internals and externals. Subjects were presented with a series of sets one per trial for twenty four trials, each of which consisted of two letters and two numbers. Certain sets were constructed using a common principle and subjects were required to identify the principle. Subjects perception of, and reactions to the experiment were measured by a post task questionnaire. The results showed that more externals were successful at finding the principle than internals. Externals used less trials per solution hypothesis and guessed on more trials than internals. Both groups had similar numbers of correct answers. More internals than externals, however, employed complex solution hypotheses. It was also found that the internals confidence in finding the principle before commencing the task was higher than that of the externals. Taken in conjunction the three studies indicate that finding the solution per se to the tasks did not differentiate internals from externals as readily as their different approaches to the tasks. The internals were more cautious and systematic in handling their solution hypotheses and processed information more efficiently and thoroughly. The externals, on the other hand, adopted a "butterfly" approach to testing their solution hypotheses, readily switching between them and returning to previously rejected hypotheses. They were less able than internals to process simultaneously two aspects of the task. It was concluded that the different problem solving behaviours of internals and externals resemble distinctive cognitive styles. Whether these cognitive styles are effective in terms of identifying the solution to a problem seems to depend largely on three main factors: the skill element of the task, the type of task, and the level of task difficulty.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Clinical health psychology ; Social psychology Clinical health psychology ; Social psychology