Field independence: Reviewing the evidence

Carol Evans*, John T.E. Richardson, Michael Waring

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The construct of field independence (FI) remains one of the most widely cited notions in research on cognitive style and on learning and instruction more generally. However, a great deal of confusion continues to exist around the definition of FI, its measurement, and the interpretation of research results, all of which have served to limit our understanding of and practice in education. Aims: This study reviews research evidence on FI and highlights key issues to frame a more informed agenda for future research. Arguments: Caution needs to be exercised over the interpretation of the evidence around FI and field dependence (FD). In tests measuring FI only, it is inappropriate to use the term FD. FI is clearly correlated with measures of spatial ability; however, whether FI is just a measure of perceptual and more specifically spatial ability is a matter of debate. Furthermore, whether FI is just a cognitive ability or a cognitive style is not the central issue, as both can be developed. FI has a significant relationship with aspects of working memory and with other variables. It is especially important in the management and interpretation of complex cognitive tasks. Conclusions: Field independence has an important role to play in the navigation of the complex and information-rich learning environments of the 21st century. It is therefore important to move beyond the present narrow focus on FI as a style or trait by acknowledging, embracing, and exploring the complexity of the interaction between individual and contextual variables.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-224
Number of pages15
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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