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"Thinking Styles - The implications of meta-cognition."

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.

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

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.

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