A new time and new cognitive models: National differences in cognitive style and their implications for management education

Jeanne Hill, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK


Arja Puurula, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Agnieszka Sitko-Lutek, Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland

Anna Rakowska, Katedra Zarazdzania Politechnika, Lublin, Poland



We know from the study of learning and cognitive style that some individuals like to use more time and information inputs to their mental processing and decision-making than others do. They also like to reflect before coming to decision closure. Our research shows that this individual characteristic appears to be reproduced on a national level.

This presentation reports on 1999 research into managerial decision-making in Poland, Finland and the UK which demonstrates significant differences between national groups in learning/cognitive style preferences to do with time, information inputs and levels of 'confidence' in decision-making situations. These differences are compared with Hofstede (1980) cultural dimensions with interesting results.

This first wave of the study signals implications for the design of learning activities and to a certain extent, to curriculum, in cross-cultural management education.

Theoretical background

Although many management writers discuss the difficulties and complexities of cross-cultural management, it is only recently that attention has been given to the study of national differences in cognition and its cultural connections. Simons and Thompson's (1998) review of the literature on factors affecting managerial decision-making revealed that although theoretical and empirical examination of environmental, organisational and decision-nature variables was relatively common, research into the role of the individual manager's characteristics and values was not.

Among these managerial characteristics are his/her culture and learning/cognitive style. Differences in learning and cognitive style preferences are now accepted as realities although there is still much debate over the degree to which these styles are fixed or changeable. In either case, the existence of style differences has significant implications for the design and delivery of education and training at all levels. These differences have so far been studied mostly at the individual level, and despite some indications of national tendencies for certain style preferences, there is a scarcity of research exploring the reasons for these tendencies.

The study

A 1998 study by Hill et al which showed significant differences in the styles of UK and Russian and former Soviet Union managers generated some propositions about the nature of style and its influences that have been expanded and measured in the current study. The key ideas tested include:

- whether differences in cognitive/learning style are seen between national samples

- whether these differences seem to be associated with socialisation in early education

- whether these differences are associated with levels of personal confidence, and if so, whether there are 'national' expressions of this confidence

- whether there are temporal and information-seeking implications to style differences

- whether these national style characteristics seem to be related to the cultural characteristics measured by Hofstede (1980)

- whether these differences would indicate differential treatment of curriculum and/or delivery methods across cultural borders

Results of these tests will be discussed in detail during the symposium presentation.



Hill, J, Alker, A, Houghton, P and Kennington, C (1998) Learning styles of Central and Eastern European and former Soviet managers: an interim report, paper presented to the 3rd Annual ELSIN Conference, Sunderland, UK, 29-30 June.

Hofstede, Geert (1984) Culture's Consequences: International differences in work-related values, Newbury Park, CA: Sage

Simons, RH and Thompson, BM (1998) Strategic determinants: The context of managerial decision making, Journal of Managerial Psychology, 13:1/2; pp. 7-21


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