Field Dependence And Field Independence: What Are They?

Field Dependence and Field Independence

Cognitive styles constitute mental patterns that guide our perception, and that allow us to manipulate and organize information in a specific way.

There are many types, but one especially investigated is Field Dependence and Field Independence by Herman Witkin.

In this article we will learn what is meant by cognitive style; We will see that it goes beyond cognition, and we will know the fundamental differences between field dependents and field independents. In addition, we will know how this cognitive style can be evaluated.

Field dependence and field independence are cognitive styles that describe how individuals perceive and process information in relation to their environment. These concepts were introduced by psychologist Herman Witkin in the 1950s and have since been widely studied in the field of psychology. Let’s explore what field dependence and field independence entail:

Understanding Field Dependence

Field dependence refers to a cognitive style where individuals rely heavily on external cues and context to make sense of information. People who are field dependent tend to perceive the world holistically, focusing on the relationships between objects and their surroundings rather than individual components. They may have difficulty separating relevant information from background noise and may rely on social cues or authority figures for guidance.

Characteristics of Field Dependence:

  1. Reliance on Context: Field-dependent individuals rely on the context of a situation to understand information. They may struggle to isolate relevant details from the surrounding environment.
  2. Preference for Social Interaction: People with high field dependence often seek social validation and may be influenced by others’ opinions or behaviors.
  3. Difficulty with Abstract Thinking: Field-dependent thinkers may have difficulty grasping abstract concepts or complex ideas that are not directly tied to concrete experiences or examples.
  4. Tendency for Conformity: Field-dependent individuals may conform to group norms or societal expectations, prioritizing harmony and cohesion over individual autonomy.

Field independence, on the other hand, refers to a cognitive style characterized by the ability to perceive and process information independently of the surrounding context. Individuals who are field independent are adept at focusing on specific details or elements within a larger context, allowing them to analyze information objectively and make decisions autonomously.

What are cognitive styles?

Field Dependence and Field Independence are two cognitive styles Generally, people have one of these two styles, although sometimes we may use one more than the other but we have both.

But what are cognitive styles? These are concrete and differentiated ways of perceiving external information. Furthermore, they include not only its perception, but also its management, its organization, its processing and the way of remembering said information.

You may be interested:  Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence

In other words, cognitive styles are mental patterns responsible for perceiving and organizing the information that comes to us through the senses (sensory systems). It includes, on the other hand, the way we solve problems.

Characteristics of Field Independence:

  1. Analytical Thinking: Field-independent individuals excel at analytical thinking and problem-solving. They can identify patterns, isolate key information, and make logical deductions.
  2. Self-Reliance: People with high field independence rely on their own judgment and reasoning abilities rather than seeking external validation or guidance.
  3. Comfort with Abstract Concepts: Field-independent thinkers are comfortable grappling with abstract ideas and hypothetical scenarios, as they can detach themselves from the immediate context and focus on underlying principles.
  4. Tendency for Non-Conformity: Field-independent individuals may be less influenced by social norms or peer pressure, preferring to follow their own convictions and beliefs.

Field Dependence and Field Independence

Thus, there are different cognitive styles, always bipolar concepts: verbalizing style vs. visualizer style, holistic style vs. analytical, leveling style vs. sharpener, tech. Specifically, the cognitive style of Field Dependence and Field Independence was proposed by Witkin.

This style refers, broadly speaking, to how we process information: whether in a global and holistic way (field dependence) or in an analytical, detailed and concrete way (field independence).

Thus, field dependents perceive stimuli in their entirety, as unitary blocks of reality; On the other hand, field independents usually isolate the different parts that make up the objects or stimuli. They isolate them and analyze them in detail, leaving aside the context in which such a stimulus is immersed.

That is to say, When we look at a painting, for example, what do we look at? In their separate details? Or in the entire picture, as a whole? If we look at the details, leaving the rest of the image “aside”, we have an independent field style; On the other hand, if we look at the picture as a whole, ignoring the specific parts, we have a field-dependent style.


What does this style allude to?

In other words, Field Dependency and Field Independence also have to do with how we manage and/or organize information from the environment and what we do with each of the parts of the totality of a stimulus that we receive through one of our senses (in this case, sight).

Aspects in which they differ

But Field Dependence and Field Independence not only refer to how we perceive stimuli and how we organize our perception.

You may be interested:  7 Tips to Study Less and Be Smarter

It also refers to characteristics of our personality and other aspects such as feelings or emotions. We are going to see the differences between these two cognitive styles, analyzing some of the parameters or aspects that are part of their characteristics and proposed by Jonassen and Grabowsky (1993).

1. Interpersonal relationships

Thus, while people with a field dependent style tend to be people more oriented towards interpersonal relationships and social relationships in general, field independents focus more on themselves, on their intrapersonal relationship.

That is, field dependents need social contact more, and field independents tend to be more solitary and more reserved. On the other hand, while the former seek and need that affiliation, those personal relationships, the latter do not seek them, and appear more distant and individualistic.

2. Social information

On the other hand, and in line with the previous point, dependents tend to show more attention to social information and people; On the other hand, this type of information goes more unnoticed by independents. They focus, therefore, on other aspects of a non-social nature.

3. Information management

Another difference in relation to Field Dependence and Field Independence is that the dependent style is characterized by people who accept ideas as they are presented, that is, they do not try to analyze them as independent people would; Thus, the latter not only “receive” the information (passively), but also manipulate it and analyze it in detail.

4. Stress management

Field dependents tend to be stressed more easily by external stimuli, while independents are not; It doesn’t affect them that much, in fact they ignore it.

5. Conflict management

Dependents are more practical, take action more quickly, and tend to try to solve and resolve conflicts that arise. However, independents are more philosophical, they think more before acting, they are more cognitive and therefore tend more to think about problems than to act on them.

Furthermore, dependents are guided more by facts, by the tangible, and dependents are guided more by ideas and concepts.

6. Influence of stimuli

Continuing with the aspects that differentiate the styles of Field Dependence and Field Independence, we find that the former are more influenced by the structure and format of the stimuli. This has to do with its more global analysis of the information. On the other hand, field independents are not influenced as much by these elements.

On the other hand, dependents pay more attention to what stands out in the environment, and independents are more responsible for developing internal hypotheses and focusing more on what they themselves generate.

Practical Implications

Understanding field dependence and field independence can have practical implications in various domains, including education, psychology, and business. Educators can adapt teaching methods to accommodate students with different cognitive styles, while psychologists may utilize assessments to understand clients’ cognitive preferences. In business settings, awareness of field dependence and field independence can inform decision-making processes and team dynamics.

You may be interested:  What is Creativity? Are We All “potential Geniuses”?

How is it evaluated?

The test of excellence to evaluate field dependence and field independence is the Masked Figures Test (or hidden), by Witkin, Oltman, Raskin and Karp (1971). This evaluation test consists of the presentation of two figures to the tested subject: a simple figure and a complex one. He is asked to find the simple figure in the complex figure.

How will the subjects act, according to their cognitive style? Field-dependent subjects will tend to have difficulties finding the simple figure in the complex one, since it is more difficult for them to isolate the component elements of the figures, and they focus more on the totality of the stimuli. That is, it is more difficult for them to separate elements from their context.

On the other hand, field independents have an easier time doing so, which is why it will be easier for them to identify the simple figure within the complex one, presenting better results than field dependents in this sense.


Field dependence and field independence represent two distinct cognitive styles that influence how individuals perceive and process information. While field-dependent individuals rely on external cues and context, field-independent thinkers analyze information autonomously. Recognizing these cognitive styles can enhance our understanding of human behavior and inform strategies for effective communication, learning, and decision-making.

Field Dependence and Field Independence is a cognitive style that encompasses not only cognitive processes, but also emotional processes and aspects of personality. These differences have been found after much research carried out on the matter, since cognitive styles make up an especially useful area to know in learning psychology, basic psychology and cognitive psychology.

As we have seen, field independents are people freer from the context, more capable of freeing themselves from it and observing the details of the reality that is presented to them. Dependents allow themselves to be guided more by context, and in fact they often need it to solve problems.

On the other hand, although people usually have one of these two styles predominant, it is true that sometimes we can use the other a little, depending on the task, the objective and its context.