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The effect of cognitive style, empathy, and nonverbal expressiveness on interactive problem solving

Marsh, William Leon (1979) The effect of cognitive style, empathy, and nonverbal expressiveness on interactive problem solving. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study involved an analysis of some aspects of the communication process between teacher and pupil. More specifically, the major purpose was to establish the effect that cognitive style, empathy, and nonverbal expressiveness had on interactive problem-solving.

Seven basic research questions were addressed:
(1) Is problem solving and communication per se more effective when teacher and pupil are of similar cognitive style?
(2) Is there a difference between a teacher's self perception of her empathic ability and the way that pupils view her empathic skill?
(3) Does the volume of positive nonverbal expressiveness employed by a teacher affect her empathic
(4) Do teachers of differing cognitive style generate a different volume of positive nonverbal expression in a dyadic situation with a pupil?
(5) Do teachers of differing cognitive style differ also in their self-perception of empathy and also in the way in which pupils perceive the received empathy toward them by such teachers?
(6) Does a high level of empathic understanding between teacher and pupil result in greater efficiency in problem-solving by the pupil?
(7) Does a high volume of positive nonverbal expressiveness by the teacher result in greater efficiency in interactive problem-solving?

Three measures of the dependent variable, namely the Equipment Assembly Problem (Leggo), the Social Persuasion Problem (Reversal) and the Geographic Orientation Problem (Map) were considered with the five independent variables - Pupil Field-Dependence, Teacher Field- Dependence, Perceived Empathy, Received Empathy and Nonverbal Expressiveness. Interactive effects were considered as well as main effects.

The teachers in this study were female student-teachers, and only female pupils were considered in classes.

Related to Research Question 1, the sample tested showed that similarity of cognitive style did have a significant influence on the effectiveness of interactive problem-solving by female pupils and teachers.

To do with Research Question 2, it was found that no significant correlation existed between Perceived and Received Empathy. How empathic a student-teacher saw herself had little effect on how empathic the children considered her to be.

The volume of positive nonverbal expressiveness used by the student-teacher did play some small part in persuading children and certainly affected the degree of empathic interaction. (Research Question 3). It detracted from the persuasive task (Reversal) and facilitated the geographic-orientation task (Mapping) hence it could be inferred that it did affect empathic interaction with children. A high volume of positive nonverbal expressiveness seems to be mainly facilitative in tasks which involved complex instructions but not in simple instruction and certainly not in persuasive tasks where it tended to distract.

Considering Research Question 4, both field-dependent and field-independent student teachers were all more successful in persuading children to reverse their decisions when nonverbal expressiveness was kept at a low profile. A high level of positive nonverbal expressiveness seemed to detract from persuading people in the Reversal Task.

Regarding Research Question 5, this could only be answered according to the interacting effect with problem-solving. Field-independent student-teachers completed the tasks much quicker if they were high on received empathy from the children. Field-dependent student-teachers complete tasks much quicker if they are low on received empathy. Self-perceptions of empathy appeared to show little relationship to cognitive style.

For Research Question 6, it was found that if a child likes the student-teacher and received empathy is evident, then the child became more susceptible to persuasion.

Finally, for Research Question 7, indications were that for complex tasks, nonverbal expression did embellish instructions and hence facilitated communication.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Docking, Russell
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