Integrated Framework of Cognitive Style

Kozhevnikov (2007) reviewed the existing trends and perspectives in the field of cognitive style research, and proposed an integrated framework to guide future research. This was accomplished by means of a comprehensive literature review of the major advances and the theoretical and experimental problems that have accumulated over the years and by a discussion of the promising theoretical models that can be further developed, in part, with modern neuroscience techniques and with research from different psychological fields.

On the basis of the research reviewed in this article, it was suggested that cognitive styles represent heuristics that individuals use to process information about their environment. These heuristics can be identified at multiple levels of information processing, from perceptual to metacognitive, and they can be grouped according to the type of regulatory function they exert on processes ranging from automatic data encoding to conscious executive allocation of cognitive resources.

Object-Spatial-Verbal Cognitive Style Model

Kozhevnikov, Kosslyn, & Shephard (2005) proposed the new Object-Spatial-Verbal theoretical model of cognitive style that identifies three relatively independent dimensions: Object Imagery, Spatial Imagery, and Verbal. Object-Spatial-Verbal theoretical modelThis model re-examined the traditional Visual-Verbal cognitive style model
Visual-Verbal cognitive style model
, in accordance with current behavioral and neuroscience findings,  demonstrating  the dissociation between the object and spatial processing systems
Dissociation  between object & spatial systems in the brain
. Blazhenkova & Kozhevnikov (2009), based on the results of confirmatory factor analysis, demonstrated that the overall fit of the data to the new three-dimensional model of cognitive style was significantly better than that to a traditional model

Based on the new Object-Spatial-Verbal cognitive style theoretical model, Blajenkova, Kozhevnikov, & Motes (2006) first designed and validated a new self-report instrument assessing individual differences in object imagery and spatial imagery (Object-Spatial Imagery and Verbal Questionnaire; OSIQ), and Blazhenkova and Kozhevnikov (2009) developed an extended version of the OSIQ that included verbal scale ( Object-Spatial Imagery and Verbal Questionnaire
; OSIVQ). Furthermore, based on the OSIVQ, Blazhenkova, Becker, and Kozhevnikov (in press) designed a new self-report instrument, the Children’s Object-Spatial Imagery and Verbal Questionnaire (C-OSIVQ), assessing object, spatial and verbal cognitive styles in younger populations (8-17 years old). Across a series of studies, these cognitive style questionnaires demonstrated high internal reliability, predictive, discriminative and ecological validity in both children and adults. Our results have consistently shown that individuals’ preferences to, or self-assessments of, object and spatial imagery are usually highly correlated with corresponding measures of object
Examples of object  imagery tasks
and spatial ability
Examples of Spatial  imagery tasks
, respectively (Blazhenkova & Kozhevnikov, 2009; Blajenkova et al, 2006). These findings suggest that self-report measures could be reliably used to identify an individual’s particular strengths and weaknesses in the use of object or spatial modes of information processing.

Overall, our research supports the validity of an Object-Spatial-Verbal cognitive style dimension and related measures when developed on the basis of modern cognitive science theories.

Object-Spatial Dissociation in Individual Differences in Visual Imagery

Based on recent data from cognitive neuroscience and behavioral research about the existence of two anatomically and neurologically distinct visual, object and spatial visual system
Dissociation  between object and spatial systems in the brain
in perception, working memory, and imagery, (Ungerleider, & Mishkin, 1982; Kosslyn, Ganis, & Thompson, 2001), we propose a new framework of individual differences in mental imagery. Specifically, we investigate the dissociation between individual differences in object visualization ability (processing visual information about appearances of objects and scenes in terms of their pictorial properties) and spatial visualization ability (processing visual information about spatial relations between objects or their parts, and performing mental spatial transformations and manipulations) and how these different types of imagery are used in different professional domains (e.g., science, visual arts, architecture).

Our research into the object-spatial dissociation follow three directions:

Our central finding is that some individuals use imagery to construct vivid, concrete, and detailed images of individual objects (object visualizers), whereas others use imagery to represent the spatial relationships between objects and perform spatial transformations, such as mental rotation (spatial visualizers). Moreover, our behavioral results showed that there is a trade-off between object and spatial imagery abilities
Visualization Ability
: while object visualizers score poorly on spatial imagery tasks but excel on object imagery tasks, spatial visualizers score high on spatial imagery tasks
Examples of Spatial  imagery tasks
but poorly on object imagery tasks
Examples of object  imagery tasks
(Kozhevnikov, Hegarty, & Mayer, 2002; Kozhevnikov, Kosslyn, & Shephard, 2005; Kozhevnikov, Blazhenkova, & Becker, 2010).


Recently, we designed the Object-Spatial-Verbal Questionnaire ( OSIVQ
) as an assessment tool for distinguishing between object visualizers, spatial visualizers, and verbalizers (Blazhenkova & Kozhevnikov, 2009) The OSIVQ assesses different visual style preferences effectively and quickly, which makes it highly useful in applied settings (e.g., education, vocational guidance), and for psychological research (e.g., studying object and spatial visual and verbal processing)

Cognitive Style

Our research on cognitive style includes two main directions:

Our lab is interested in investigating Cognitive Style from theoretical and applied perspectives. In our research, we refine the concept of cognitive style and develop theoretically guided measures of cognitive style.

Cognitive style historically has referred to a psychological dimension representing consistencies in an individual’s manner of cognitive functioning, particularly with respect to acquiring and processing information. The problem of reliably assessing cognitive style has always been a challenge, due to theoretical and methodological difficulties (see Kozhevnikov, 2007, for a review).

In particular, in our research, based on contemporary cognitive neuroscience evidence, we investigate object, spatial, or verbal cognitive styles that describe individuals’ preferences to, or self-assessments of, the use of object, spatial, or verbal, mode of information processing, respectively (Kozhevnikov et al., 2005; Blajenkova et al. 2006; Blazhenkova & Kozhevnikov, 2009).


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The research in the Mental Imagery lab focuses on investigating visualization processes and individual differences in mental imagery in cognitive style. In particular, we examine how individual differences in visualization ability affect more complex activities, such as spatial navigation, learning and problem solving in mathematics, science and art. We also explore ways to train visual-object and visual-spatial imagery skills and design three-dimensional immersive virtual environments that can accommodate individual differences and learning styles.

The Mental Imagery and Human-Computer Interaction lab research focuses in five main directions:

Our approach integrates qualitative and quantitative behavioral research methods, as well as neuroimaging techniques (EEG, fMRI). Furthermore, we develop and validate assessment and training paradigms for visualization ability, using  3D immersive virtual reality.

Based on behavioral and neuroscience evidence, we formulated a theoretical framework of individual differences in visual imagery, and suggested that visualization ability is not a single undifferentiated construct, but rather is divided into two main dimensions: object and spatial, and that the spatial dimension is further divided into allocentric and egocentric dimensions. All these visualization abilities underlie success at different complex, real-world tasks, and predict specialization in different professional and academic domains.