Researchers Kozhevnikov and co-authors Carol Evans of the University of Exeter (UK) and Stephen Kosslyn of the Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute draw on findings from psychological science and neuroscience to define cognitive style as: “Environmentally sensitive individual differences in cognition that help an individual to adapt to his or her environment.”

While these adaptive patterns or styles may initially grow out of innate predispositions (basic processing capacities, intelligence, and personality traits), they are primarily shaped in response to changing environments.

These environmental demands occur at various “layers,” say the researchers, from the immediate environment (e.g., school and family) all the way up to institutional patterns of culture (e.g., the economy, societal customs, and bodies of knowledge).

The framework, which builds on the work of Polish psychologist Chezlaw Nosal, shows that it is possible to organize and systematize all the dimensions of cognitive style into a matrix that represents various levels of information processing (from lower-order cognitive processing to higher order complex cognitive skills) on one axis and various cognitive style families (types of adaptations to external environment) on the other axis.

“Current style assessments in applied fields have serious limitations, focusing either too narrowly on one particular dimension or combining cognitive style dimensions with other unrelated variables,” says Kozhevnikov.

For example, Kozhevnikov describes that cognitive style, often in the business sector, is usually mapped onto a single “analytical-intuitive” dimension.

“Not only is this mapping overly simplistic, but it is typically based on outdated notions of left-right brain differences,” she said. “Although the left-brain/right-brain distinction has persisted in popular culture, there is little evidence to suggest that individual differences in cognitive processing can be linked to anatomical differences in the two hemispheres of the brain. The reality is that the brain works as a single interactive system.”

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