Thinking styles and modes of thinking: implications for
education and research
The Journal of Psychology: interdisciplinary and applied,
2002, v. 136 n. 3, p. 245-261
The Journal of Psychology: interdisciplinary and applied.
Copyright © Heldref Publications.
Thinking Styles and Modes of Thinking:
Implications for Education and Research
Department of Education
The University of Hong Kong
ABSTRACT. The author investigated the relationship of thinking styles to modes of think-
ing. Participants were 371 freshmen (aged 18 and 19) from the University of Hong Kong.
Participants responded to the Thinking Styles Inventory (R. J. Sternberg & R. K. Wagner,
1992) and the Style of Learning and Thinking (Youth Form; E. P. Torrance, B. McCarthy,
& M. T. Kolesinski, 1988). A major finding was that creativity generating and complex
thinking styles were significantly positively correlated with the holistic mode of thinking
but significantly negatively correlated with the analytic mode of thinking. Thinking styles
that denote the tendency to norm favoring and simplistic information processing were sig-
nificantly positively correlated with the analytic mode of thinking and significantly nega-
tively correlated with the holistic mode of thinking. In a preliminary conclusion, it appears
that the thinking style construct overlaps the mode of thinking construct. Implications of
this finding for teachers and researchers are delineated.
Key words: modes of thinking, thinking styles
IN EDUCATIONAL SETTINGS it is common that one student gets straight As
and another student at the same ability level frequently fails tests. There are var-
ious ways to explain this phenomenon because there are many ways to explain
individual differences in academic performance. For example, two students with
the same abilities may use their abilities differently—that is, they use different
Styles, as an individual-difference variable in human performance, have
long occupied the minds of many scholars. Between the late 1950s and mid-
1970s, there was a proliferation of literature in the area of theories and models of
styles that has become stagnant partially because of the overwhelming output in
the field and partially because of a lack of internal dialogue among researchers
The Journal of Psychology, 2002, 136(3), 245–261
This research was supported by the Wu Jieh-yee Research Fund as administered by The
University of Hong Kong.
Address correspondence to Li-fang Zhang, Department of Education, The Universi-
ty of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong; firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).
(Jones, 1997). When Riding and Cheema (1991) reviewed the literature on styles,
they identified over 30 labels for the style construct. Consequently, we are left
with a research field that embraces a confusing variety of seemingly different yet
In the past decade or so there has been renewed interest in theories and mod-
els of styles manifested in two topics—conceptually integrating existing style
labels and empirically testing the style labels. Literature on the conceptual inte-
gration of styles is best represented by Curry’s (1983) three-layer “onion” model
of style measures, by Riding and Cheema’s (1991) model of two style dimen-
sions and one family of learning strategies, and by Grigorenko and Sternberg’s
(1995) three traditions of the study of styles. These works have been reviewed in
detail in my recent article (Zhang, 2000b). My present article is based on Grig-
orenko and Sternberg’s conceptualization of styles in the literature. Thus, only
Grigorenko and Sternberg’s work is recapitulated.
Grigorenko and Sternberg (1995) contended that existing models and theo-
ries related to style labels can be classified into three traditions of studying styles:
cognition centered, personality centered, and activity centered. Styles in the cog-
nition-centered tradition most closely resemble abilities. These styles have often
been measured by tests of maximal performance with right and wrong answers.
Within this tradition, Witkin’s (1964) field dependence–independence and
Kagan’s (1966) reflection–impulsivity models have generated the most interest.
Styles in the personality-centered tradition most closely resemble personal-
ity traits, and styles in this tradition are measured with typical performance tests
(no right or wrong answers) rather than maximal performance tests. Models of
styles in this tradition are best represented by Gregorc’s (1982) four main types
of styles and Myers and McCaulley’s (1988) work based on Jung’s (1923) theo-
ry of types. The activity-centered tradition emphasizes the notion of styles as
mediators of various forms of activities that tend to arise from some aspects of
cognition and personality. Literature in this tradition is represented by similar
theories of deep- and surface-learning approaches proposed separately by Mar-
ton (1976), Biggs (1979), and Entwistle (1981).
Empirical studies that attempt to clarify the nature of the relationships
among the different style labels are sparse. All the studies found in the literature
(through a PsycLit search) were reviewed in my (Zhang, 2000b) recent work.
This review suggested that empirical studies about the relationships among the
different style labels have produced diverse results. The results of some of these
studies showed more similarities than differences among various style labels,
whereas others identified more differences than similarities. For example, after
studying 38 university students, Ford (1995) concluded that students’ holist and
serialist competence, as measured by Pask and Scott’s (1972) original testing
materials designed to suit holist and serialist learning strategies, could be pre-
dicted by Riding’s (1991) Cognitive Styles Analysis that is designed to measure
The Journal of Psychology
Harasym, Leong, Juschka, Lucier, and Lorscheider (1996) also found a
strong association between two style labels. Harasym et al. investigated the rela-
tionship between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI; Myers & McCaulley,
1988) and the Gregorc Style Delineator (Gregorc, 1982). They found that each
learning style assessed by the Gregorc Style Delineator corresponded to certain
traits assessed by the MBTI. For example, individuals who scored higher on the
Concrete Sequential learning style scale tended to have traits of sensing and
judging on the MBTI, whereas individuals who scored higher on the Concrete
Random learning style scale tended to have the traits of intuition and perceiving
on the MBTI.
Other researchers, however, found more differences than similarities among
different style labels. For example, Sadler-Smith (1997) carried out a study
among 245 university undergraduates in business studies. The participants
responded to the Cognitive Styles Analysis (CSA; Riding, 1991), the Learning
Preferences Inventory (LPI; Riechmann & Grasha, 1974), the Learning Styles
Questionnaire (LSQ; Honey & Mumford, 1992), and the Revised Approaches to
Studying Inventory (RASI; Entwistle & Tait, 1994). After examining the corre-
lation coefficients among the scales of the different instruments, Sadler-Smith
concluded that there is some overlap between the dimensions measured by the
LSQ and the RASI. However, no statistically significant relationships were iden-
tified between cognitive styles (as measured by the CSA) and any of the other
style constructs investigated.
In a more recent study, Sadler-Smith (1999) examined the relationships
between cognitive styles as measured by the Cognitive Style Index (Allinson &
Hayes, 1996) and learning approaches as measured by the Approaches to Study-
ing Inventory (Gibbs, Habeshaw, & Habeshaw, 1988). Although the results of
this study indicated that analysts tended to adopt a deeper approach to learning
than did intuitives and that intuitives exhibited a stronger preference for collabo-
rative approaches than did analysts, Sadler-Smith concluded that the evidence
found in the relationships between cognitive styles and learning approaches was
not strong and that the two style labels are, at least superficially, independent.
Renewed interest in the style literature also manifested itself through an
additional type of work, that is, the postulation of new theories of styles that
encompass styles from all three traditions to the study of styles. Sternberg’s
(1988, 1997) theory of mental self-government is such a theory. The theory of
mental self-government addresses thinking styles. A thinking style is defined as
our preferred way of using the abilities that we have. Sternberg believes that just
as there are many ways of governing our society, there are many ways to govern
or manage our daily activities. These different ways of managing our activities or
of using our abilities are called thinking styles. People’s thinking styles vary
depending on the stylistic demands of a given situation. Also, thinking styles are
at least partially socialized (Sternberg, 1994, 1997).
The theory of mental self-government proposes 13 thinking styles that fall
along five dimensions of mental self-government. The first dimension is func-
tion, including the legislative, executive, and judicial thinking styles. The second
dimension is related to form, including the hierarchical, oligarchic, monarchic,
and anarchic thinking styles. The third dimension concerns level, including the
global and local thinking styles. The fourth dimension is scope, including the
internal and external thinking styles. The fifth dimension is leaning, including
the liberal and conservative thinking styles. A brief description of each of the 13
thinking styles is provided in the Appendix.
In my opinion, 7 of these thinking styles can be categorized broadly into two
types. The first type (including the legislative, judicial, global, and liberal styles)
is creativity generating and requires complex information processing. People
who use this type of thinking styles tend to be norm challenging and risk taking.
The second type (including the executive, local, and conservative styles) requires
simplistic information processing. People who use this type of thinking styles
tend to be norm favoring and authority oriented.
There are two reasons for this new classification of the 7 styles. The first is
related to the nature of the styles as manifested in their demands for the degree
of complexity in information processing (complex vs. simplistic) and in the
potential products that the use of each type of thinking style is likely to lead to
(creative and norm challenging vs. noncreative and norm favoring). The second
reason is related to the empirical findings based on Sternberg’s theory of mental
self-government. For example, I (Zhang, 2000b; Zhang & Sternberg, 2000)
found that the first type of thinking styles were significantly positively related to
the deep approach to learning but significantly negatively related to the surface
approach to learning. Complementarily, the second type of thinking styles were
significantly positively related to the surface approach to learning but signifi-
cantly negatively related to the deep approach to learning.
In Zhang and Sternberg’s studies, the concept of a deep or surface approach
to learning was the one defined in Biggs’s (1987, 1992) theory of student learn-
ing. An individual who uses a deep approach hopes to gain a real understanding
of what is learned, whereas an individual who uses a surface approach aims to
reproduce what is taught to meet the minimum requirements.
To gain a real understanding of what is learned, one needs to be creative and
to use a nontraditional approach to learning that involves a great deal of complex
information processing, as would an individual who uses the first type of think-
ing styles. To accurately reproduce what is taught, one needs to follow estab-
lished rules in performing tasks, which requires mostly simple information pro-
cessing, as would an individual with the second type of thinking styles. It was on
the basis of this interpretation of the findings on the relationships between think-
ing styles and approaches to learning, along with the nature of styles as discussed
earlier, that I classified the 7 thinking styles into the two types.
Several measures have been constructed to test the theory of mental self-
government. These measures have been used to study a variety of populations
The Journal of Psychology
such as secondary school students; university students; and pre-service and in-
service teachers in cross-cultural contexts including Hong Kong, mainland
China, and the United States. Apart from obtaining good reliability and validity
data for these measures, we have examined the usefulness of these measures in
educational settings and have obtained a few major groups of interesting find-
ings. First, we found that thinking styles are significantly related to both stu-
dents’and teachers’characteristics. For example, students from higher socioeco-
nomic status (SES) families scored higher on the legislative style than did
students from lower SES families (e.g., Sternberg & Grigorenko, 1995). Students
in natural science and technology tended to think more globally than those study-
ing in social science and humanities (Zhang & Sachs, 1997). Students who had
more extracurricular experience used such thinking styles as the legislative, hier-
archical, and liberal styles, whereas those who had less extracurricular experi-
ence used executive, local, and conservative thinking styles (Zhang, 1999).
Teachers with long experience used more executive, local, and conservative
styles than those teachers who had taught for a short time (Sternberg & Grig-
orenko, 1995). Sternberg and Grigorenko also found that teachers inadvertently
favored students who had thinking styles similar to their own.
Researchers have also indicated that thinking styles contribute to students’
academic achievement beyond what can be explained by abilities (Grigorenko &
Sternberg, 1997; Zhang & Sternberg, 1998). For example, higher achieving U.S.
university students tend to employ the hierarchical thinking style. Higher achiev-
ing Hong Kong university students tend to score significantly higher on the exec-
utive, local, and conservative styles. Higher achieving mainland Chinese students
score significantly lower on the executive style.
The thinking style construct defined by the theory of mental self-government
has also been tested against constructs from two of the three traditions to the
study of styles. The first is the activity-centered tradition. From this approach,
Biggs’s (1987) theory of learning approaches was tested against the thinking
styles in Sternberg’s theory. Results showed that students who use the creativity
generating and complex styles (e.g., legislative, liberal) tend to report a deep
approach to learning, whereas students who tend to use the norm favoring and
simplistic thinking styles report a surface approach to learning (Zhang, 2000b;
Zhang & Sternberg, 2000).
The second type of theory against which the theory of mental self-govern-
ment has been tested is from the personality-centered tradition. Sternberg (1994)
examined the correlations of the thinking styles scales to scales in the MBTI
(Myers & McCaulley, 1988). Thirty of the 128 correlations were statistically sig-
nificant. These correlations are well above the levels that would be expected by
chance and suggest a significant overlap between thinking styles and personality
types. In a recent study, I (Zhang, 2000a) found that research participants who
scored higher on the Social and Enterprising scales of a short version of Hol-
land’s Self-Directed Search (Holland, 1994; Zhang, 2000c) tended to score lower
on the Internal thinking style scale, but scored higher on the External scale. Sim-
ilarly, participants who scored lower on Holland’s Artistic scale tended to score
higher on the Executive, Local, and Conservative scales.
However, the theory of mental self-government has not been examined
against a theory from the third tradition to the study of styles, that is, the cogni-
tion-centered tradition. In the present study, the thinking styles in the theory of
mental self-government were tested against Torrance’s (1988) Style of Learning
and Thinking (SOLAT). Although the SOLAT is claimed to be based on theory
and research on the specialized cerebral functions of the left and right hemi-
spheres, I believe that the inventory is, in fact, measuring two different modes of
thinking—holistic versus analytic. The use of both modes can be termed as an
integrative mode of thinking.
My contention can be supported by the more recent research findings (e.g.,
Banich, 1998; Beeman & Chiarello, 1998) on the study of hemispheric asymme-
tries. In discussing the evolving perspectives on the specialization of the two
hemispheres, Banich and Heller (1998) asserted that the two hemispheres are
more dynamic than static and that they are more interactive than was believed 20
years ago. The authors argued that it is not that the left brain processes verbal
information and the right brain processes spatial information. Instead, the left
brain can be conceptualized as being specialized for processing information in a
piecemeal, analytic, and sequential manner, which simply happens to be a good
way for processing verbal information. The right brain can be conceptualized as
being specialized for processing information in a holistic manner, which happens
to be good for processing spatial information. The use of both modes allows the
two hemispheres to process information dynamically. These more recent
research findings indicate that what people used to call cerebral dominance is
actually mode of thinking. Researchers using Torrance’s model have mistakenly
used the term brain dominance.
I chose the SOLAT for two major reasons. First, the inventory is clearly cog-
nition centered. The SOLAT assesses people’s preferred ways of processing
information—analytic, holistic, and integrative. The second reason for choosing
the SOLAT is that it is one of the major inventories that have resulted in findings
that have important implications for curriculum development, teaching strate-
gies, and assessment formats. For example, Bracken, Ledford, and McCallum
(1979) found that students designated by SOLAT as left-brain dominant correct-
ly completed significantly more multiple-choice questions than did right-brain
dominant students. The authors concluded that right-brain dominant students
may be penalized in instructional situations in which multiple-choice measures
are used exclusively.
In the discussion of math learning and brain dominance, Grow and Johnson
(1983) delineated gender differences that affect math learning in the specializa-
tion of the two hemispheres. They also pointed out that most school curricula
favor students with left-brain dominance. In their research of 193 11th-grade
The Journal of Psychology
Korean high school students, Kim and Michael (1995) found that students clas-
sified as showing a learning and thinking style preference, hypothesized by the
authors to correspond to right-brain dominance, scored higher on creativity mea-
sures than did students classified as displaying a learning and thinking style pref-
erence, hypothesized by the authors to be related to either a left-brain dominance
or a whole-brain dominance. However, little relationship was found between
school performance and students’ scores on creativity measures that require
In the present study I have cast the SOLAT in a new light, that is, in the light
of modes of thinking, which is more accurate in describing what this inventory
really measures. My major goal in the present study was to explore the relation-
ship of thinking styles as defined in the theory of mental self-government to
modes of thinking as tested by the SOLAT (Torrance, McCarthy, & Kolesinski,
1988). My hypotheses were as follows:
1. Thinking styles that are more creativity generating and more complex
(e.g., legislative, judicial, liberal, and global styles) are significantly pos-
itively correlated with the holistic mode of thinking but significantly neg-
atively correlated with the analytic mode of thinking.
2. Thinking styles that exhibit a norm-favoring tendency and are more sim-
plistic (e.g., executive, conservative, and local) are significantly positive-
ly correlated with the analytic mode of thinking but significantly nega-
tively correlated with the holistic mode of thinking.
Participants were 371 entering freshmen (154 men and 217 women) at the
University of Hong Kong. The research was conducted during students’ orienta-
tion session. Among these participants, 84 (22.6%) were 18 years old, and 287
(77.4%) were 19 years old. This sample of students was appropriate for use with
the SOLAT (Youth Form, designed for use up to the 12th grade in the U.S.)
because they had graduated from senior high schools just before they participat-
ed in the present research. Participation was voluntary and informed consent was
obtained. Participants were from all of the 9 faculties (Architecture, Arts, Den-
tistry, Education, Engineering, Law, Medicine, Science, and Social Sciences) and
the School of Business at the university.
All the students completed the Thinking Styles Inventory (TSI; Sternberg &
Wagner, 1992) and the Style of Learning and Thinking (Youth Form, SOLAT;
Torrance, McCarthy, & Kolesinski, 1988).
The TSI is a self-report test in which participants rate themselves on a 7-
point scale with 1 denoting that the statement does not describe them at all and
7 denoting that the statement characterizes them extremely well. There are 65
items, each 5 falling into one of the 13 different style scales. In the present study,
the students were required to respond to 35 items assessing the 7 thinking styles
that had been classified into two types. The four forms (hierarchical, oligarchic,
anarchic, and monarchic) and two scopes (internal and external) of thinking
styles were omitted as they cannot be easily categorized into either one of the two
types of thinking styles. For the same reason, no significant relationship was
anticipated for the 6 omitted thinking styles to any of the scales in the SOLAT.
The TSI had been translated and back-translated between English and Chi-
nese in 1996. Since then, I have carried out a series of studies using the Chinese
version in both Hong Kong and mainland China. Results indicated that the TSI
is reliable and valid for assessing the thinking styles of students in the two Chi-
nese cultures (for details, see Zhang, 2000b; Zhang & Sternberg, 2001). In the
present study, I used the Chinese version of the TSI. The Cronbach alphas for this
version are .72 (legislative), .70 (executive), .79 (judicial), .60 (global), .47
(local), .82 (liberal), and .76 (conservative).
The SOLAT (Youth Form) is a self-report inventory consisting of 28 items.
Each item allows individuals to choose one of two statements or both; one state-
ment is characterized by the analytic mode of thinking and the other by the holis-
tic mode of thinking. Choosing both statements results in scoring on the integra-
tive mode of thinking. The following is an example:
a. I am good at remembering verbal materials.
b. I am good at remembering sounds and tones.
The choice of Item a is scored on the analytic mode of thinking scale; the choice
of Item b is scored on the holistic mode of thinking scale; choosing both Items a
and b is scored on the integrative mode of thinking scale.
Reliability and validity statistics for the SOLAT (Youth Form) have been
reported in the SOLAT Administrator’s Manual (Torrance, 1988). The Cronbach
alpha was .77 for the Analytic scale and .74 for the Holistic scale. No reliability
data were reported for the Integrative scale. In the present study, the Cronbach
alpha was .75 for the Analytic scale, .70 for the Holistic scale, and .85 for the
Not much has been found in the literature regarding the validity of the Youth
Form of the SOLAT. However, as Torrance (1988) pointed out, its validity can rest
primarily on evidence accumulated for a few older versions of the SOLAT (for
details, see Torrance, 1988). In general, it appears that although creative problem
solving and creative thinking require both analytic and holistic modes of thinking,
the essence of creative behavior calls for the holistic mode of thinking.
The SOLAT used in the present study is a Chinese version. It was translated
and back-translated between Chinese and English.
The Journal of Psychology
I conducted a preliminary test for identifying a possible gender difference in
any of the thinking style and mode of thinking scales. Because no significant
gender difference was found, the remaining statistical analyses were conducted
with data for men and women combined.
I used three statistical procedures to explore the relationship between think-
ing styles and modes of thinking. First, all the scales from the two inventories
were submitted to a principal-axis factor analysis with an oblique rotation. This
procedure was based on the assumption that if thinking styles and modes of
thinking are related, scales from the two inventories should share common vari-
ance accounted for by the data; that is, certain scales from each of the two inven-
tories should load on the same factors. Second, I computed a zero-order correla-
tion matrix. Third, I performed a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) to
identify participants’differences in thinking styles on the basis of their scores on
the SOLAT scales. Participants were divided into high, medium, and low groups
for all three SOLAT scales (Analytic, Holistic, and Integrative). Cut-off scores
were based on an exploration of score distributions. Scores in the lowest quartile
were designated as low, scores in the middle two quartiles were designated as
medium, and scores in the highest quartile were designated as high. Because the
significance level of the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test of the variables was greater
than .05, normality was assumed.
Oblimin-Rotated Four-Factor Model for the Thinking Styles
Inventory and the Style of Learning and Thinking (N = 371)
Scale Factor 1Factor 2Factor 3 Factor 4
% of variance
28.90 21.85 14.63 10.59
Note. Scales with factor loadings of less than |.35| are omitted.
The factor analysis performed on all scales from the two inventories result-
ed in four factors (accounting for 76% of the variance in the data) on the basis of
visual inspection of eigenvalues with the scree test (Cattell, 1966). Each of the
four factors was loaded with scales from both inventories, suggesting significant
relationships between thinking styles and modes of thinking. The first factor
showed high positive loadings on the Legislative, Judicial, Global, Local, and
Liberal thinking styles scales as well as on the Holistic scale. The second factor
was positively loaded on the Executive and Conservative thinking styles scales
as well as on the Analytic scale. Factor 3 showed high positive loadings on both
the Analytic and Holistic scales, but showed a negative loading on the Global
thinking style scale. Factor 4 was dominated by positive loadings on the Holistic
scale and the Global thinking style scale, but by a negative loading on the Local
thinking style scale. Detailed statistics are summarized in Table 1.
TSI and SOLAT Scale Correlations
The correlation coefficients among the scales from the two inventories are
summarized in Table 2. All correlations were in the predicted directions. Fur-
thermore, the majority of the correlation coefficients were statistically signifi-
cant. For example, the Analytic scale was significantly positively correlated with
the Executive and Conservative thinking styles scales and significantly negative-
ly correlated with the Liberal style scale. The Holistic scale was significantly
positively correlated with the Legislative and Liberal thinking styles scales,
whereas it was significantly negatively correlated with the Executive and Con-
servative styles scales.
The Journal of Psychology
Pearson Correlation Matrix for the Thinking Styles
Inventory and the Style of Learning and Thinking (N = 371)
Scale Analytic Holistic Integrative
*p < .05. **p < .01.
ANOVA—Thinking Styles by Modes of Thinking
As mentioned earlier, as a result of their scores on each of the three SOLAT
scales, participants were classified into low, medium, and high groups. I tested the
possible modes of thinking group differences in thinking styles. A one-way
ANOVA followed by post hoc tests using Tukey’s honestly significant differences
test indicated the following significant group differences. For the analytic groups,
two thinking styles scales (Executive and Conservative) resulted in significant
group differences. The high analytic group scored significantly higher on both the
Executive and Conservative thinking styles scales than did both the medium and
low analytic groups. Furthermore, the medium analytic group also scored signifi-
cantly higher on the Executive thinking style scale than did the low analytic group.
Regarding the holistic groups, all thinking styles scale scores resulted in
group differences. The higher holistic groups scored significantly higher on the
Legislative, Judicial, Global, and Liberal thinking styles scales than did lower
holistic groups. On the contrary, higher holistic groups scored significantly lower
on the Executive and Conservative thinking styles scales. Finally, the low holis-
tic group scored significantly lower on the Local thinking style scale than did
both the high and medium holistic groups.
For the integrative groups, the Legislative and Judicial thinking styles scores
Mean Scores for Thinking Styles Inventory Scales
Based on Mode of Thinking Groups (N = 371)
Note.Ldenotes a mean significantly lower than that of one group; LLdenotes a mean significantly
lower than those of two groups; Hdenotes a mean significantly higher than that of one group; HHde-
notes a mean significantly higher than those of two groups.
Mode of thinking/
resulted in significant group differences. The high integrative group scored sig-
nificantly higher on both the Legislative and Judicial thinking styles scales than
did both the medium and low integrative groups, whereas there was no signifi-
cant difference in thinking styles between the medium and low groups. A detailed
summary of the mean differences for the analytic, holistic, and integrative think-
ing groups in thinking styles is presented in Table 3.
Discussion and Implications
The results attained in this study largely support my hypotheses regarding
the relationship between thinking styles and modes of thinking after being test-
ed by three statistical procedures—factor analysis, scale correlations, and
ANOVA. Integrated results from the three statistical procedures suggest that par-
ticipants who scored higher on thinking style scales that are more creativity gen-
erating and more complex (Legislative, Judicial, and Liberal) tended to score sig-
nificantly higher on the Holistic scale, but scored significantly lower on the
Analytic scale than did those who scored lower on the Legislative, Judicial, and
Liberal thinking styles scales. Participants who scored higher on thinking style
scales that exhibit a norm-favoring tendency and are more simplistic (Executive
and Conservative) tended to score significantly higher on the Analytic scale, but
scored significantly lower on the Holistic scale than did those who scored lower
on the Executive and Conservative thinking styles scales.
Across all three statistical analyses, a global thinking style was consistently
significantly correlated with the Holistic scale. All these results confirmed my
hypotheses. These results also make substantive sense. People’s tendency to fol-
low logic and instructions in task performance can be understood both as being
an analytic mode of thinking and as using the two norm-conforming thinking
styles (executive and conservative). Both the use of the holistic mode of thinking
and of such thinking styles as legislative, judicial, liberal, and global may be
explained as a manifestation of creative endeavors.
However, with the local thinking style, the three statistical analyses pro-
duced conflicting results. The correlation between the local thinking style and the
Holistic scale revealed a significantly positive relationship, whereas the ANOVA
indicated a significantly negative relationship. Although the factor loadings of
the first factor suggested a positive relationship between the local style and the
Holistic scale, the factor loadings on the fourth factor pointed to a negative rela-
tionship between the two. According to my prediction, the local thinking style
should have a significantly positive relationship with the Analytic scale but a sig-
nificantly negative relationship with the Holistic scale. People with a local think-
ing style and/or an analytic mode of thinking should deal with tasks or process
information in a piecemeal manner. The conflicting results in the present study
may be attributable to the low reliability of the Local thinking style scale (α =
.47, the only correlation coefficient below .60). The low reliability might be due
The Journal of Psychology
to some problems in the translation of the items in the scale or to the lack of rel-
evancy of some items used with Hong Kong students.
I made no specific hypothesis on the relationship between the thinking styles
and the Integrative scale. Nevertheless, I explored their relationships by using the
same three statistical procedures. Results from factor analysis suggested that par-
ticipants who scored higher on the Integrative scale tended to score higher on the
Executive and Conservative thinking style scales, but scored lower on the Glob-
al scale than did those who scored lower on the Integrative Scale. Both compu-
tation of scale correlations and ANOVA indicated that those who scored higher
on the Integrative scale scored significantly higher on the Legislative and Judi-
cial thinking style scales than did their counterparts. In general, these results
indicated that participants who reported adopting an integrative mode of think-
ing tended to use multiple thinking styles of both types.
The major value of the present study lies in its verification of the relationship
of thinking styles to modes of thinking. The study was a continuation of my inves-
tigation of the nature of thinking styles proposed in Sternberg’s theory of mental
self-government against a theoretical model from the cognition-centered tradition
of the study of styles. Results of the present study suggest that thinking styles sig-
nificantly overlap with modes of thinking—analytic, holistic, and integrative.
Whereas a consistent relationship between the local thinking style and modes of
thinking was not found in the present study, I found consistent and strong rela-
tionships between other thinking styles and modes of thinking. The legislative,
judicial, liberal, and global thinking styles are related to the holistic mode of
thinking for processing information. The executive and conservative thinking
styles are related to the analytic mode of thinking for processing information.
It should be noted, however, that the present study is only the first of its kind.
Thus, the conclusion drawn regarding the relationships between thinking styles
and modes of thinking should be considered preliminary. Researchers should
carry out further investigations, especially those involving experimental proce-
dures, to facilitate a better understanding of the relationships between the two
constructs. Nevertheless, the findings from the present study have implications
for teachers and researchers.
Teachers can foster students’ creativity by using the relationships found
between thinking styles and modes of thinking. Many study results have indicat-
ed that creativity is highly associated with an integrative mode of thinking and
especially with the holistic mode of thinking (Harnad, 1972; Kim & Michael,
1995; Okabayashi & Torrance, 1984; Tan-Willman, 1981). For example, Harnad
(1972) found that highly creative mathematicians habitually depend on a holistic
mode of thinking.
Because I found significant relationships between thinking styles and modes
of thinking—significant relationships that are essentially consistent with theoret-
ical predictions—teachers should feel confident that they could foster creativity
by allowing for a variety of thinking styles. Teachers can allow for different
thinking styles, as has been argued by Sternberg (1997) and Zhang (1999), by
using different instructional styles and using different assessment schema. Teach-
ers can foster creativity by tapping talents assumed to be generated from differ-
ent modes of thinking and by accommodating to and challenging the develop-
ment of multiple thinking styles.
Torrance (1988) claimed, “It now seems likely many of the objectives of edu-
cation and of society can be (and have been) attained through the kind of opera-
tions performed by the right hemisphere, and that almost all could be attained
more effectively using both kinds of functioning” (p. 1; also see McCarthy, 1980;
Torrance, 1981). If, indeed, Torrance’s claim can be substantiated by educational
outcome, we could argue that allowing for different thinking styles may also con-
tribute to the attainment of the objectives of education and of society.
The results of this study also point to the direction for future research. Much
research has been done to examine the relationship between modes of thinking
and performance on different types of learning tasks or of assessment. The results
of the present study indicate that different types of learning tasks and/or of
assessment favor students with different modes of thinking (e.g., Bracken et al.,
1979; Okabayashi & Torrance, 1984).
Further research on the nature of thinking styles, especially in relation to
modes of thinking, could be undertaken following research that has been con-
ducted on brain functioning. For example, researchers should investigate such
questions as “Do students with predominantly legislative, judicial, liberal, and
global thinking styles perform better on learning tasks that require intuitive and
nonlinear thinking? Do they perform better when they deal with materials that
are nonverbal, and spatial?” “Do students with predominantly executive and con-
servative thinking styles perform better when dealing with learning tasks that
require logical and sequential thinking? Do they perform better when dealing
with materials that are verbal, analytical, and digital?”
In other words, do thinking styles that are significantly related to modes of
thinking assist students in their academic performance in the same way that the
two modes of thinking do? Answers to these questions can contribute to the
research field of styles and enable educators to use their knowledge about think-
ing styles to facilitate more effective teaching and learning.
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Original manuscript received October 24, 2000
Final revision received February 21, 2001
Manuscript accepted May 9, 2001
Sample Items From the Thinking Styles Inventory
Sample itemsScale type Key characteristic
• I like tasks that allow me to do things my
• I like situations in which it is clear what
role I must play or in what way I should
• I like to evaluate and compare different
points of view on issues that interest me.
• I like to complete what I am doing before
starting something else.
• When undertaking some task, I like first
to come up with a list of things that the
task will require me to do and to assign an
order of priority to the items on the list.
• I usually know what things need to be
done, but I sometimes have trouble
deciding in what order to do them.
Legislative Being creative
Executive Being conforming
Judicial Being analytical
Monarchic Dealing with one
task at a time
Oligarchic Dealing with
tasks at random
• When working on a written project, I
usually let my mind wander and my pen
follow up on whatever thoughts cross my
• Usually when I make a decision, I don’t
pay much attention to details.
• I like problems that require engagement
• I like to be alone when working on a
Global Focusing on
Using new ways
to deal with tasks
ways to deal with
• I like to work with others rather than by
• I like to do things in new ways, even if I
am not sure they are the best ways.
• In my work, I like to keep close to what
has been done before.