Who You Callin’ Field Dependent?


In the 1970s H. Witkin & colleagues took an interesting difference in human cognition (between those who tend to See the Big Picture & those who tend to Notice Details), and ran with it, turning it into an all-out, Kangaroos-vs.-Clydesdales, smackdown. By 2002 here’s how The Dictionary of Psychology [ed. Ray Corsini] was talkin’ ’bout Field Dependence: “A tendency to uncritically rely on environmental cues, particularly deceptive ones, in tasks requiring the performance of simple actions or the identification of familiar elements in unfamiliar contexts. Passivity…is associated with field dependence.” And Field Independence? “The general capacity to orient the self correctly despite deceptive environmental cues (e.g. not being distracted by incidental elements in making a decision). Field independence is highly correlated with analytic ability, high achievement motivation, and an active coping style.”

Now let me tell you how physiologically field dependent [or do I mean feeble-minded] I am. You may recall my mentioning how frequently [and inconveniently] car-sick I was as a child. Know what cured me? A 1960 Mercedes Benz 190, which my father bought in the UK and–mercifully–shipped back with us upon our return to the USA, where it served as our one-and-only family car, until its debacle [rear-axle disintegration] in 1978. Aside from looking way cooler than our ’54 Buick or my grandparents’ endless succession of Caddies, it had a Very Stiff Suspension, so that a bump in the road was experienced as one short, sharp jolt [rather than a series of wallowing undulations]. What you saw was what you got. That’s what we F-D folk need, to avoid that nauseous feeling. The classic informal test for F-D involves something not everybody does anymore: sitting in a Northbound train at the station. When the Southbound train on the opposite track pulls out, does it feel as if your stationary train is moving forward? Welcome to my world.

But–talk about leaps of logic–how do we get from that kinesthetic phenomenon to Corsini’s & Witkin’s broad-brush character attributions, such as “requires externally defined goals and reinforcements”…”needs organization provided”…”avoid telling [an F-D] too many facts.” Can you hear my howling wolf cry “humiliation“? Compare that to their descriptions of F-InD folks: “Has self-defined goals & reinforcements”…”can self-structure situations”…”interested in new concepts for their own sake.” I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and deduce [which is what we F-D types do] that Witkins & Co. are/were [I can’t be bothered to check their bios, to find out who’s still with us] cognitive Clydesdales.

Lemme tell you some of the other descriptors they use for those oh-so-kinesthetically-savvy F-InD types, though: “impersonal orientation”…”learns social material only as an intentional task”…”motivated by grades, competition, by [being shown] how the task is valuable to them [not to other people].” Sounds a little…um…solipsistic. No? [Also sounds like the profile of the person Mostly Likely to Get Hired, in the current economic climate. Hence the Crazy Like a Fox remark, at the end of the previous post.]

So here’s my point. [Same old point, as ever.] There are not just two cognitive types of people; there is a continuum. Not every Analytical thinker [F-InD] is a brilliant scientist with no social skills; and not every Global thinker [F-D] is an intellectually lazy People Person…although I can think of a Prominent Politician who fit that description. All y’all Clydesdales need to climb off your high horse [as it were], and realize that you need us Big Picture Kangaroos, with our non-linear cognitive style, if only for comic relief. We all ought to see the value of both Flakes & Geeks, and to realize that every one of us is a hybrid of both.

Say, what’s that, hanging from a branch in that big old tree in this picture? Or didn’t you notice it?

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Filed under crazy like a fox, murky research, sharks and jets

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