Cognitive Style and Dyadic Interaction: The matching hypothesis re-visited

Steve Armstrong,  University of Hull,  UK.

This paper compares the outcomes of two studies which examined the possibility that the matching of supervisors and subordinates according to their individual cognitive styles might have a significant effect on socio-emotional aspects of their interpersonal working relationships. The possibility that results obtained may be generalised and applied to other populations of supervisor-subordinate dyads was also examined by comparing samples from two diverse populations.

A hypothetico-deductive methodology was adopted as a framework for the research. The sampling frame comprised 731 supervisor-student dyads engaged in close project-supervision relationships in a British University, and 187 supervisor-subordinate dyads from two separate organisations in industry. In both studies, subjects completed the Cognitive Style Index (Allinson & Hayes, 1996) and self-developed questionnaires which measured perceptions of self and partner with respect to the primary interpersonal dimensions of dominance and nurturance, and a range of other socio-emotional variables.

It was found that differences and similarities in cognitive style significantly affect interpersonal relationships in both an industrial work context and an educational context. However, the idea that these effects can be reduced to a straightforward matching hypothesis is too simplistic. Under many conditions, dissimilarity between interactants’ cognitive styles yielded positive interpersonal outcomes, though it was also shown that matching analytic subordinates with analytic supervisors in an educational context resulted in higher levels of performance outcomes for the subordinates. There was no evidence to suggest that generalisations could be drawn across populations and differences between the results from industry and education were attributed to the nature of the work task. Analytic supervisors were shown to be more effective in the education sample, whereas intuitive supervisors appeared to be more effective in the industry sample. Effects therefore appear to be dependent on the work context. Finally, both studies provided support for the belief that supervisors tend to be significantly more intuitive than subordinates.

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