Cognitive Styles in Law Schools

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Cognitive Styles in Law Schools

By Alfred G. Smith

Patrick A. Nester and Lynn H. Pulford, Research Associates

A study of differences in cognitive styles among 800 law students.



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5.5 x 8.5 | 200 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-74177-5

People differ in their cognitive styles—their ways of getting and using information to solve problems and make decisions. Alfred G. Smith and his associates studied these differences in a selected group of over 800 students at a score of law schools throughout the United States. Two major cognitive styles were identified: that of the monopath, who follows a single route of established principles and procedures, and that of the polypath, who takes many routes, as circumstances suggest.

A battery of both original and standard tests was administered to both law students and their professors to investigate differences in cognitive style and their relationships to self-image, anxiety, and academic achievement. This also revealed differences in prevailing styles at different schools.

The results will be of special interest to readers concerned with legal education, to psychologists, and to behavioral scientists. The research format developed here will serve equally well for raising significant questions about the professions of medicine, education, social work, and others in which cognitive and communication styles play a central role in determining outcomes.


Problems of Cognitive Styles
1. Cognitive Styles
2. Methodology

Tests of Cognitive Styles
3. Legalism
4. Intolerance of Ambiguity
5. Authoritarianism
6. Opportunism

Corollary Tests and Analyses
7. Anxiety
8. Cognitive Self-image
9. Problem Solving
10. Differences among Law Schools
11. Cognitive Styles of Law Professors

Categories, Consequences, and Conclusions
12. Categories of Cognitive Styles
13. Other Variables and Cognitive Styles
14. Conclusions

Appendix 1. Research Questionnaire
Appendix 2. Oral Solution of Verbal Problems
Appendix 3. Authorization Statement A
Appendix 4. Authorization Statement B



Alfred G. Smith (1957–2004) served as Director of the Center for Communications Research and was Professor of Communication Studies and Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin.