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Dent, K.A. (1983). Cognitive Styles: Essence and Origins: Herman A. Witkin and Donald R. Goodenough, International Universities Press, New York, 1981, 141 pp.. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 11(4):635-636.
   

(1983). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 11(4):635-636

Cognitive Styles: Essence and Origins: Herman A. Witkin and Donald R. Goodenough, International Universities Press, New York, 1981, 141 pp.

Review by:
Katherine A. Dent, M.D.

This monograph reviews an area of psychological research concerned with field dependence-independence, which is considered by the authors to be a major aspect of cognitive style. It covers the historical development of these studies, conclusions reached by the investigators, and hypotheses regarding the origins of this trait in human beings.

Herman Witkin pioneered this research in the 1940s with experiments on perception of the upright. The experiments began with the question of how do people locate the upright in space. The direction of perceived upright was postulated to be determined by either utilizing the field around the object as a framework for determining the horizontal and vertical or by using gravity. The first method depends on vision, the second on vestibular, tactile, and kinesthetic senses. Ordinarily both methods provide the same information and are therefore used together. The experimental situations separated these two methods. In the body-adjustment test and the rod-and-frame test, the visual framework was tilted, leaving gravitational pull on the body unaltered. In the rotating-room test the opposite situation was created.

What were the results of this research? It was found that subjects differed markedly in performance of different orientation tasks and that subjects were self-consistent in their method of establishing the upright. The investigators concluded that these differences depended on whether the person used the field or his body as a referent.

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