Cognitive styles and search engine preferences: Field dependence/independence vs holism/serialism

Natalie Clewley, Sherry Y. Chen, Xiaohui Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Purpose: Cognitive style has been identified to be significantly influential in deciding users' preferences of search engines. In particular, Witkin's field dependence/independence has been widely studied in the area of web searching. It has been suggested that this cognitive style has conceptual links with the holism/serialism. This study aims to investigate the differences between the field dependence/independence and holism/serialism. Design/methodology/approach: An empirical study was conducted with 120 students from a UK university. Riding's cognitive style analysis (CSA) and Ford's study preference questionnaire (SPQ) were used to identify the students' cognitive styles. A questionnaire was designed to identify users' preferences for the design of search engines. Data mining techniques were applied to analyse the data obtained from the empirical study. Findings: The results highlight three findings. First, a fundamental link is confirmed between the two cognitive styles. Second, the relationship between field dependent users and holists is suggested to be more prominent than that of field independent users and serialists. Third, the interface design preferences of field dependent and field independent users can be split more clearly than those of holists and serialists. Originality/value: The contributions of this study include a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences between field dependence/independence and holists/serialists as well as proposing a novel methodology for data analyses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-603
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Documentation
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010


  • Individual psychology
  • Information searches
  • Search engines
  • User studies
  • Worldwide web


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