Field Dependence/Independence

Another cognitive style variable the one on which the most research has been performed is filed dependence/field independence (Witkin, Moore, Goodenough, & Cox, 1977). Sometimes called global vs. analytical thinking this variable reflects on how learners think and process information. The field dependent learner is one who processes information globally. This learner is less analytical, not attentive to detail, and sees the perceptual field as a whole. This whole resists analysis or decomposition. The field independent person on the other hand can easily break the field down into its component parts. He/she is typically not influenced by the existing structure and can make choices independent of the perceptual field. Field dependent persons are more socially oriented and therefore they respond more to reward and punishment (Ferrell, 1971). They also need more explicit instructions when material to be learned is disorganized. They also are less able to synthesize and analyze (Frank & Davis, 1982).

Psychological Differentiation and Dependence/Independence: Field independence/field dependence deals with the amount of psychological differentiation experienced. Differentiated systems are more complexly organized. The relationships between the system and the environment are more elaborate. Witkin and Goodenough (1981) describe the differentiation process as one of the creation of inner boundaries between the inner core of the self and the environment. Psychological activities also have boundaries and are separated from each other and the environment. Differentiation creates a hierarchical structure forming an articulated system. Field independence requires a restructuring of the perceptual or psychological field and therefore is a more differentiated process. According to Witkin and Goodenough (1981) field dependent learners are more socially oriented than filed independent learners. They pay more attention to social cues, they like to be with others and they seek learning and vocational experiences that put them in contact with people. Field dependent children perform less well on formal operations tasks than do field independent children, Brodzinsky (1985). Other researchers support this. For example: children, according to Witkin and Goodenough (1981), are more field dependent than are adults. There is a general movement toward field independence across development, but there are also great individual differences. Those who develop more rapidly toward field independence also develop greater competence in cognitive restructuring. Interestingly evidence is presented (from primitive agricultural and nomadic herding societies) which indicates that there is genetic selection of field independent subjects in primitive settings and that more are field dependent as the culture grows and becomes more modem. Characteristics of Field Dependent/Independent Learners: Garger and Guild (1987) have summarized the characteristics of field independent and field dependent learners. These are reported below. From this table it is clear that, at least in the extremes, the two styles are very different. Independence/Dependence Descriptions.
Learning Styles
Perceives globally Perceives analytically
Experiences in a global fashion, adheres to structures as given Experiences in an articulate fashion, imposes structures of restrictions
Makes broad general distinctions among concepts, sees relationships Makes specific concept distinctions, little overlap
Social orientation Impersonal orientation
Learns material with social content best Learns social material only as an intentional task
Attends best to material relevant to own experience Interested in new concepts for their own sake
Requires externally defined goals and reinforcements Has self-defined goals and reinforcements
Needs organization provided Can self-structure situations
More affected by criticism Less affected by criticism
Uses spectator approach for concept attainment Uses hypothesis-testing approach to attain concepts
Teaching Styles
Prefers teaching situations that allow interaction and discussion with students Prefers impersonal teaching situations such as lectures. Emphasizes cognitive aspects of instruction.
Uses questions to check on student learning following instruction Uses questions to introduce topics and following student answers
Uses student-centered activities Uses a teacher-organized learning situation
Viewed by students as teaching facts Viewed by students as encouraging to apply principles
Provides less feedback, avoids negative evaluation Gives corrective feedback, uses negative evaluation
Strong in establishing a warm and personal learning environment Strong in organizing and guiding student learning
How to Motivate Students
Through verbal praise Through grades
Through helping the teacher Through competition
Through external rewards (stars, stickers, prizes) Through choice of activities, personal goal chart
Through showing the task's value to other people Through showing how the task is valuable to them
Through providing outlines and structure Through freedom to design their own structure
Garger and Guild (1987)

Below are two tables reproduced from Whitefield (1995) which expand on the field dependent/field independent styles labeled global and analytic. Whitefield shows how learners with these styles learn and suggests ways in which they should be taught.

Global Vs Analytic

Some terms used in educational literature:

Analytic < ------- > Global
Left ---------------- Right
Sequential -------- Simultaneous
Inductive ---------- Deductive


- learn step by step
- cumulative sequential pattern building towards a concept
- prefer quiet, well lit, formal design
- have a strong need to complete the task they are working on
- respond well to words and numbers
- need visual re-enforcement
- give directions, fact sheets, underline important sections
- provide feedback on details - in sequence


- learn the concepts first
- then concentrate on details
- like to be introduced to information with humor and color
- can work with distracters
- take frequent breaks
- work on several tasks simultaneously
- most gifted children are global
- need lessons that are interesting to them
- discover through group learning (small group techniques)
- need written and tactual involvement
- respond well to pictures
Whitefield (1995) at

Guidelines for Teaching GLOBAL Students
Introducing the material Start the lesson with a story, an anecdote or humor that relates to the content. If possible, have it relate to the student's own experiences, or something that is realistic to them.
Discovery through group learning. Avoid telling too many facts. Students are to discover these in small groups. Some techniques may be Circle of knowledge, Team learning, brainstorming, case study, etc.
Written and tactual involvement. Globals love to graph, map, illustrate, draw, role-play, create charts, invent games, make things, etc. Then watch them develop teaching skills when they have to teach to other students. This happens a lot with computers.

Guidelines for Teaching ANALYTIC Students
Explanations and visual reinforcement Analytics respond to key words and numbers.
Write these on the board as you go. Answer questions about details directly, and use
printed visuals such as the board and overheads.
Directions List all relevant information about assignments, work requirements, objectives and directions on paper, or have the students copy from the board. Don't tell them, show them.
Step by step Proceed step by step through the details that need to be absorbed in order to acquire skills. Put key words on the board, underline important sections or use highlighters, check homework daily, teach independent use of the library facilities, etc.
Testing and feedback. Provide instant feedback on tests and assignments (as soon as
possible), and do what you say you will do! Analytics hold you to your word.