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date: 19 October 2021

Intellectual Styleslocked

Intellectual Styleslocked

  • Li-fang ZhangLi-fang ZhangThe University of Hong Kong
  •  and Robert J. SternbergRobert J. SternbergCornell University


“Intellectual styles” refers to people’s preferred ways of processing information and dealing with cognitive and other tasks. Styles comprise an all-embracing way of understanding such constructs as cognitive styles, learning approaches, career personality types, thinking styles, teaching styles, and many others—constructs with or without the word “style.” The field of intellectual styles has a history of more than eight decades. Until the early 21st century, however, the field was constantly struggling with its identity as a result of three major challenges: (a) the lack of a common language and a conceptual framework with which work on styles could be understood, (b) the difficulty in distinguishing styles from intelligence/abilities and personality traits, and (c) the ambiguity concerning the link between work on styles and work in other fields. This identity crisis was exacerbated by three principal controversial issues regarding the nature of intellectual styles: whether styles are distinct constructs or similar constructs that overlap with one another but have different labels; whether styles represent traits or states, or whether they have elements of both; and whether styles are value free or value laden (i.e., some styles are more desirable than others in terms of human learning and performance).

Over the years, the aforementioned difficulties inherent in intellectual styles impeded the progress of the field and confused both practitioners and the general public. Despite these and other difficulties, the field has flourished since the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Concerted attempts at theoretical conceptualizations have given some degree of unity to disparate bodies of literature. At the same time, tens of thousands of empirical investigations based on a wide range of style models and carried out in diverse populations across the globe have consistently demonstrated the critical roles that styles play in various domains of human lives. Undoubtedly, the existing literature has proved that intellectual styles are real, distinct psychological phenomena. Moreover, research findings have scientific value as well as practical implications for human learning and performance. Nevertheless, for the field to prosper further, several major limitations with the existing work must be overcome, and investigations that take into account the fast-changing world need to be initiated.


  • Cognition, Emotion, and Learning

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