University of Leicester
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Psychological differentiation and cognitive style

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posted on 2010-10-14, 08:43 authored by James McGuire
This thesis is concerned with the concept of psychological differentiation, and with its applications in the field of cognitive style, particularly in relation to individual differences in field-dependence-independence. The thesis addresses itself specifically to the 'differentiation hypothesis', which suggests that tests of perceptual field-dependence measure an individual's overall level of differentiation, and that this level will manifest itself consistently across many areas of psychological functioning, including cognition, personality, and social behaviour. An examination of the concept of differentiation, and of research carried out on field-dependence-independence, revealed inconsistencies in the existing evidence and in the relationship between this evidence and the interpretation of the concept. Attention was focused on three questions about the links between field-dependence and differentiation, and some empirical work is reported bearing on each. The first question was whether individual differences in field-dependence owed more to specific kinds of visual experience than to underlying, enduring personality characteristics. A cross-cultural study is outlined which concerns this issue. This involved the administration of a battery of perceptual tests to groups of schoolchildren (n=54) and university students (n=34) in Hong Kong. Results did not favour the alternative view of field-dependence scores; however field-dependence tests showed strong associations with general intelligence. A second study investigated more closely the relationship between field dependence, intelligence, and other cognitive 'styles' (capacity for divergent thinking, and reflection-impulsivity). A number of cognitive style measures were administered to groups of school pupils in Edinburgh (n=110). Results suggested that while the other cognitive style tests are separate from each other and from intelligence, field-dependence tests measure little that can be distinguished from more general ability factors. However the possibility remained that field-dependent and field-independent individuals differ in their orientation towards or away from the interpersonal environment. Accordingly, a third study explored the possibility that field-dependent persons, judged as 'less differentiated' on the basis of perceptual tests, in fact functioned at a higher level of differentiation in other domains - the verbal and the interpersonal. A study conducted with adolescents in Sheffield (n=91) failed to find support for this suggestion. While field-dependent and field-independent persons did differ in their orientation towards others, it could not be shown that field-dependent individuals were more 'differentiated' in their perceptions of them.


Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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