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Interpretation of the field-independence dimension : the effect of variations in stimulus input on the performance of field-independent, intermediate and field-dependent subjects Smith, June Makins


This study was designed to test the theoretical interpretation of the Field-Independence Dimension of intellectual functioning. Witkin (1962, 1964, 1965) and Silverman (1968) proposed that consistent individual differences, which were found when subjects responded to the Rod and Frame Test (RFT) and the Embedded Figures Test (EFT), reflected differences in ability to analyse a complex perceptual field and to resist the attraction of irrelevant elements of the field. Field-independent (FID) subjects were thought to be highly analytic and highly resistant to distraction whereas field-dependent (FD) individuals were thought to be overwhelmed by the complexity of the perceptual field. Elliott (1961) suggested that the responses of field-independent and field-dependent persons were determined by brain function and were not affected by the nature of the perceptual field. A discriminant identification task was designed so that the effect of variations in stimulus input could be studied in relation to FID, intermediate (N) and FD groups of subjects. The subjects were 96 male volunteers who were divided into FID, N and FD groups on the basis of their combined scores on the RFT and EFT. They were presented with complex visual arrays and were asked to focus upon a designated part (or item) of each array. Their task was to name a feature of the designated item which distinguished that item from all other items on the array. The stimuli were altered in three specific ways: firstly there were either three or six separate items; secondly each item carried either three or six attributes (e.g. shape, size and colour of the central figure, colour of the background, number and design of borders); thirdly the subject's chance of finding a correct response by "luck" (chance) could be either one in three (high) or one in six (low). Thus the amount of input that the arrays carried was varied in two ways (items, attributes) and the need to analyse complexity was also varied (probability of chance success). The response measures were latency of response and the number of errors. On the basis of Witkin's and Silverman's interpretations, increases in the amount of stimulus input or in the need for stimulus analysis should cause differential changes in the response latencies and error scores of FID, N and FD subjects. The FID-Group should show least increase in latencies of response and in error scores and the FD-Group should show the greatest increase on these measures. The response latencies and error scores of the N-Group should increase to an intermediate degree. The alternate interpretation which Elliott proposed generated the prediction that changes in stimulus parameters would not cause differential changes among FID, N and FD groups. According to this author, all changes on response measures should be of the same magnitude and in the same direction. The results of the study supported Elliott's interpretation of Field Independence. There was no interaction between increased stimulus input and level of field dependence, or between decreased probability of success and level of field dependence. The results showed that there were significant differences among the FID, N and FD groups with respect to latency of response (.025) and error scores (.05). The differences were in the predicted direction. Changes in the amount of stimulus input and in the probability of success by chance were also reflected in significant differences in response latencies (items, p<,001; attributes, p<.001; probability of success, p<.001). Error scores were a less sensitive measure of stimulus manipulations. There was a significant effect, in the predicted direction, which was due to probability of success (p<.001), but the other significant effects (items, p<.05; attributes, p<.001) were in the opposite direction to that which had been predicted. Fewer errors were made when the amount of stimulus input was increased. When the amount of stimulus input was varied, the number of errors appeared to be a function of the latency of response. Less than 10% of responses were error responses. It was concluded that differences between FID, N and FD groups do not reflect differential responsiveness to external stimulation, and it was suggested that more attention should be paid to consideration of the manner in which stimulus inputs are processed.

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