In 1969 George Miller, an American psychologist, argued that
an understanding of psychology is a means of promoting human
welfare and as such should be 'given away' to ordinary people:
"the secrets of our trade need not be reserved for highly
trained specialists. Psychological facts should be passed
out freely to all who need and can use them in a practical
and usable form so that what we know can be applied by ordinary
people" (Miller, 1969, pp. 1070-1).
However, on its own, giving psychology away is not enough.
Miller suggests that psychology should be explained in a way
and using language which allows 'ordinary' people to understand
and apply psychological constructs in ways which are beneficial
to their daily lives and psychological welfare. One of the
key aims of Thinking Styles was to do just that.
This article explores the links between Thinking Styles
and psychological theory, its applications in the areas of
education, personal and professional development, and the
ways in which it may contribute to Millers' vision.
Thinking Styles is a meta cognitive instrument. Meta-cognitive
awareness is firstly, the self-knowledge we experience when
we reach an understanding of the ways in which we ourselves
process information, and secondly, the understanding that
other people may think similarly or differently to ourselves.
Harris et al's Theory of Mind (1989): how children come to
understand what others think and feel, is consistent with
this concept. It suggests an awareness which is not fundamentally
egocentric and as such is not inconsistent with some of the
concepts of emotional intelligence; self-awareness for example.
Of course, meta-cognitive awareness in itself does not suggest
emotional intelligence, nor that any increased understanding
will be used for the welfare of others.
The concept for Thinking Styles originated from neuro-linguistic
programming (NLP) with the purpose of measuring individual
preferences for the sensory representational systems utilizing
rigorous, psychometric methodologies. NLP theory suggests
that the dimensions measured by Thinking Styles are cognitive
filters with each dimension having specific linguistics, i.e.
associated language patterns. Our research suggests that each
style of thinking also has associated surface traits (behaviours)
and as such is consistent with other measurement instruments
within the psychometric paradigm.
In recent years there has been increasing interest in the
areas of cognition and developmental cognition, partly due
perhaps to the evolution of more sophisticated medical instruments
which can measure the biological and chemical changes in the
brain's physiology relating to individual performance against
certain cognitive tasks. It is possible that in the future,
cognitive performance will increasingly become one of the
differentiating factors of success in the workplace, and that
cognitive styles, preferences and levels of flexibility will
themselves become increasingly differentiated.
Hardman and Beverton (1993) argue that children need to develop
meta-cognitive knowledge in order to participate effectively
in meaningful group discussions at school. Extrapolating from
their research I would suggest that similar skills are required
by adults at work for effective team working and group working
to take place. I would go further and suggest that adults
need a certain level of meta-cognitive awareness in order
to develop meaningful relationships with others within both
their personal and professional lives. Thinking Styles provides
a mechanism for achieving this awareness.
Sternberg (1988), suggests that with increasing age, and
as meta-cognitive awareness develops, increased flexibility
of thinking and cognitive control strategies such as the chunking
of information are also acquired. I would suggest that cognitive
preferences and meta-cognitive awareness (or lack of it),
have significant implications in the areas of teaching and
learning for both children and adults.
This information will not be new to teachers and educationalists.
What they may or may not have considered however is: firstly,
how their own cognitive preferences influence their preferred
teaching methodologies, the way in which they teach, and the
language they use, and secondly, how much do we really understand
about the ways in which children's behavioural and cognitive
responses are triggered by specific language patterns? Thinking
Styles can assist teachers by helping them to identify their
own personal cognitive preferences and therefore associated
behaviours and language patterns. Where these match those
of their pupils, learning is likely to happen quickly and
easily. Where there is a mismatch, i.e. the thinking and therefore
the learning styles of their pupils is different to their
own, both teacher and pupil are likely to experience frustration,
anxiety and stress and disappointment with the learning process.
"The teacher is a worker in mind as a blacksmith is a worker
in metal, and mind must be moulded by mind", (Adams, in Laurie,
1911, p. 30).
The linguistic trigger words for each dimension of Thinking
Styles were written into the design of the questions, the
questions selected for the final questionnaire being those
which scored most highly within the internal reliability statistics.
Through the careful use of linguistics it is possible to differentiate
between those questions which suggest a cognitive preference
and those which suggest cognitive flexibility within a dimension.
For example, responses of 'agree' and 'strongly agree' to
the statement "understanding the details is very important
to me" could begin to suggest a preference for Detail Conscious
thinking. A response of 'sometimes' to the same question could
begin to suggest some contextual cognitive flexibility across
the dimension, although of course no one question would be
used in isolation.
Cognitive linguistics are proving to be a fascinating area
of research and may have implications for all of those people
working within the area of psychometric design. For example,
one of the emotional intelligence questionnaires currently
available includes the question, "I find it easy to adapt
to new situations and circumstances". We have identified 'easy'
and 'difficult' as two of the linguistic triggers associated
with the cognitive filters of simplicity and complexity respectively.
It is quite possible therefore that there may be some people
who are 'able' to adapt but do not find it 'easy'to do so.
Potentially, therefore, they may respond negatively to the
question as they are influenced by, and are responding to,
the linguistic trigger of the word 'easy'. Regardless of the
psychometric construct and the question's performance on the
internal reliability statistics, a ‘better' question might
be, "I am able to adapt to new situations and circumstances".
This could be answered regardless of how 'easy' or 'difficult'
a person might find it to adapt.
With its psychometric rigour, high face validity and ready
accessibility, one application of Thinking Styles could be
through the use of language to mediate between two intellectual
disciplines, for example, education and psychology. By labelling
and making explicit the cognitive styles, linguistics and
associated behaviours, there could emerge a common language
which makes both academic and human sense, (Donaldson, 1978).
As a meta-cognitive instrument with its background in NLP,
Thinking Styles is the first occupational tool of its type
to bridge the gap between the psychological and NLP communities,
something which, historically, many psychologists have thought
to be an almost impossible task.
I would suggest that in a practical way Thinking Styles makes
available certain elements of the complex areas of meta-cognition
and advanced linguistics, making them accessible to 'ordinary',
non-psychologically trained people. In that sense, Thinking
Styles may indeed have the potential to improve the psychological
welfare of ordinary people. Miller would be pleased.
BEDDOES-JONES, F. (1999)
Thinking Styles- Relationship Strategies That Work!
BJA Associates Ltd. ISBN 0-9535-3100-7.
DONALDSON, M. (1978)
Children's Minds, London, Fontana, p.83
HARDMAN, F. and BEVERTON, S. (1993)
Co-operative group work and the development of metadiscoursal
skills, Support for Learning, 8, pp.146-50
HARRIS, P.L. JOHNSON, C.N, HUTTON, D. ANDREWS, G. and COOKE,
Young children's theory of mind and emotion, Cognition and
Emotion, 3, pp.379-400
LAURIE, A.P. (1911)
The Teacher's Encyclopedia, London, Caxton Publishing Co.
MILLER, G. (1969)
Psychology as a means of promoting human welfare, American
Psychologist, 24, pp. 1063-75
STERNBERG, R.J. (1988)
Intellectual development: psychometric and information processing
approaches, in BORNSTEIN, M.H and LAMB, M.E. (eds) Developmental
Psychology: an advanced textbook, Hillside (New Jersey), Erlbaum.