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Chapter 12: Cognitive Topics in Personality
Cognitive Approaches: Such difference in how people think is the focus
Personalizing cognition: Processing information by relating it to a similar event in your
own life. For example, you might see a car accident and might think back to the time that
you were in a car accident.
Objectifying cognition: processing information by relating it to objective facts.
Cognition: Refers to awareness and thinking as well as to specific mental acts such as
perceiving, interpreting, remembering, believing, and anticipating.
Information Processing: The transformation of sensory input into mental representations
and the manipulation of such representations.
Perception: the process of imposing order in the information our sense organs take in. Two
people can look at the same situation and think two different things.
Interpretation: Making sense of or explaining various events in the world.
Conscious goals: the standards that people develop for evaluating themselves and others.
Personality Related Through Perception: Field Dependence
Witkin, studied differences in perceptual style, to investigate such individual
differences, he devised an apparatus called the Rod and Frame Test (RFT) – to
research cues that people use in judging orientation in space. The participant sits in
a darkened room and is instructed to watch a glowing rod surrounded by a glowing
If the participant adjusts the rod so that it is leaning in the direction of the titled
frame, than that person is said to be dependent on the visual field, or field
Such participants are said to be independent of the field, or field independent; they
appear to rely on their own sensations not the perception of the field, to make the
Another way to measure field dependence/independence is to create a complex
figure that contains many simple figures or shapes, example, children’s puzzles
Field Dependence/Independence and Life Choices
Field dependent people tend to rely on social information and frequently ask other
people for their opinions. They are attentive to social cues and in general are
oriented toward other people, and have a strong interest in others
Field Independent people function with more autonomy and display a more
impersonal or detached orientation towards others. They are not very interested in
other’s opinions, keep their distance from others, and show a preference for
Current Research on Field Dependence/Independence
New research began to appear in literature; one new area of research concerns how
people react to situations that are rich in sensory stimulation and whether field-
independent people can focus on a task and screen out distracting information from
Another area of high stimulation is in hypermedia and multimedia based computer
instruction, such as educational materials on the World Wide Web, which come with
sound and streaming video.
- This involves the presentation of multiple media formats including text
on a computer screen, graphics, videos, etc. while students navigate
through this maze of sensory information at their own pace
Another area that requires skill at seeing patterns, organizing information, and
making generalizations is learning a second language
Studies concluded that field-independent persons have an easier time acquiring a
second language, most likely because they are better able to perceive patterns
within a complex stream of information
Pain Tolerance and Sensation Reducing/Augmenting
Once commonly noticed difference between people is pain tolerance, in which
people undergo the same physical stimulus but react quite differently from each
other in terms of the pain they experience. Example, having to get an injection from
This difference between people in their pain tolerance attracted the interest of
Psychologist Aneseth Petrie
He studied people in hospitals undergoing painful operations, as well as normal
subjects in whom she induced pain ---through applying heat or by piling weights on
the middle joint of her subjects fingers
She developed a theory that people with low pain tolerance had a nervous system
that amplified, or augmented the subjective impact of sensory cues
In contrast, people who could not tolerate pain well were thought to have a nervous
system that dampened, or reduced, the effects of sensory stimulation
Her theory came to be called the reducer/augmenter theory
Petrie believed that individual differences in pain tolerance originated in the
nervous system, for example, researcher reported that reducers show relatively
small brain responses to bursts of noise in comparison with augmenters
Many researchers see a strong similarity between the augmenting/reducing
construct and other personality constructs related to individual differences in how
people respond to stimulation
Personality Revealed Through Interpretation
We often find ourselves interpreting everyday events: “Why did I get a poor
grade on my test? Can I really do anything to lose weight?” etc.
Such interpretation often concern responsibility or blame – such as whose fault
it is when someone gets a poor grade
Other time, such interpretations inquire about expectations for the future, such
as if someone can lose weight.
Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory
Kelly believed that all people are motivated to understand their circumstances and
to be able to predict what will happen to them in the near future
Kelly believed that the content of explanations was not as important as the fact that
people believed them and could use them to understand their circumstances
Scientists employ constructs (a provable hypothesis to summarize a set of
observations and conveys the meaning of those observations) to interpret
observations. Example, gravity is a scientific construct