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The Journal of Psychology, 2008, 142(5), 497–515

Copyright © 2008 Heldref Publications

Thinking Styles and Emotions

University of Hong Kong

ABSTRACT. This study aimed to explore the relationship between thinking styles and
emotions among university students in Hong Kong. Participants were 99 2nd-year stu-
dents (23 men and 76 women) who responded to the Thinking Styles Inventory–Revised
(TSI-R), based on R. J. Sternberg’s (1988) theory of mental self-government, and to the
Iowa Managing Emotions Inventory (IMEI), based on A. Chickering’s (1969) theory of
psychosocial development. Results indicated not only that thinking styles were associated
with emotions but also that thinking styles had predictive power for emotions beyond
age. The author discusses implications of these findings for faculty members and student-
development educators.
Keywords: Chinese university students, emotions, thinking styles


such as cognitive styles, learning styles, thinking styles, and teaching styles and
refers to people’s preferred ways of processing information and dealing with
tasks (Zhang & Sternberg, 2006). It has been established that intellectual styles
matter in various domains of a student’s life, including his or her academic
achievement (Bagley & Mallick, 1998; Mansfield, 1998), cognitive develop-
ment (Globerson & Zelniker, 1989; Westreich, Ritzler, & Duncan, 1997), career
development (Hilliard, 1995; Morgan, 1997), and personality traits (Deng, Li, &
Zhang, 2000; Saleh, 1998).
I considered the present study to be related to the final line of the aforemen-
tioned investigations (i.e., research on the relation between intellectual styles and
personality traits). In literature, some scholars consider constructs such as anxiety,
assertiveness, depression, frustration, happiness, and optimism as personality
traits (e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1992; Eysenck & Eysenck, 1964). Other scholars,
however, refer to such constructs as emotional competence (e.g., Ciarrochi, Deane,
The author is grateful to the Committee on Research and Conference Grants, adminis-
tered by the University of Hong Kong, for funding this project. The author’s special thanks
go to all the research participants.
Address correspondence to Li-fang Zhang, Faculty of Education, The University of
Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong; lfzhang@hku.hk (e-mail).

498 The Journal of Psychology

Wilson, & Rickwood, 2002), emotional intelligence (e.g., Mayer, Salovey, Caruso,
& Sitarenios, 2001), mental health (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996), subjective well-
being (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999), emotions, (Mortenson, 2006; Spangler,
Pekrun, Kramer, & Hofmann, 2002) or emotionality (e.g., Hayden, Klein, Durbin,
& Olino, 2006).
This study adopts the term emotions to achieve consistency with those used
in the theoretical framework on which one of the inventories employed in this
study stands: the emotions dimension defined in Chickering’s (1969; Chicker-
ing & Reisser, 1993) theory of psychosocial development. Furthermore, this
construct will be examined against thinking styles, one of the specific style con-
structs under intellectual styles.

Intellectual Styles and Emotions

Researchers have investigated the relation between intellectual styles and

emotions for more than three decades. However, unlike research on the more
general cognitive–affective personality system (e.g., Mischel & Ayduk, 2004;
Mischel & Shoda, 1999), research on intellectual styles and emotions has been
unfruitful. Campbell and Douglas (1972) conducted the earliest study in which
researchers examined children’s responses to and level of optimism toward the
threat of frustration in relation to their intellectual styles, on the basis of Witkin’s
(1962) field-dependent/independent styles and Kagan’s (1965) reflective and
impulsive styles. Compared with children who scored higher on field depen-
dence and impulsivity, children who scored higher on field independence and
reflectivity displayed higher levels of optimism toward frustration.
I conducted a systematic search on the PsycINFO database (2007), enter-
ing two sets of terms in their maximum possible combinations. The first set
included emotions, emotional competence, emotional intelligence, emotional-
ity, mental health, and subjective well-being. The second set included cogni-
tive styles, intellectual styles, learning styles, and thinking styles. This search
resulted in five additional entries. These studies, however, were all published
after the mid 1990s. The first study was conducted in the Netherlands. Jong,
Merckelbach, and Nijman (1995) found that among 70 undergraduate students,
those with a holistic mode of thinking (i.e., right-brained dominance) demon-
strated higher levels of anxiety than did those with the analytic mode of think-
ing (i.e., left-brained dominance).
Riding and Wigley (1997) examined Riding and Cheema’s (1991) two stylistic
dimensions (verbal–imagery, analytic–wholistic) against psychoticism. The authors
concluded that the wholistic style was highly associated with psychoticism.
Gadzella (1999) conducted a third study and administered the Human
Information Processing Survey (Torrance, Taggart, & Taggart, 1984) and the 16
Personality Factor Questionnaire (Cattell, Cattell, & Cattell, 1978) to 55 students
enrolled in undergraduate psychology classes at a Midwestern university. Results
Zhang 499

indicated that students with an analytic mode of thinking displayed higher levels
of self-control than did students with a holistic mode of thinking, and that stu-
dents comfortable with either the analytic or the holistic mode of thinking scored
higher on the anxiety scale than did students with an integrative mode of thinking
(i.e., whole-brained thinking).
Deng et al. (2000) investigated the relations among field-dependence/
independence to assertiveness. Their results showed that the field indepen-
dent participants scored significantly higher on assertiveness than did the
field dependent ones.
Hayden et al. (2006) examined the links of positive and negative emotions
at age 3 to depressive attributional styles at age 7 years. Although little evidence
was obtained for a relationship between negative emotions and depressive attri-
butional styles, lower positive emotions at age 3 predicted greater helplessness
in the interpersonal domain.
There are at least two reasons to continue this investigation. First, the major-
ity of the existing studies were based on style models that describe two bipolar
styles (e.g., field-dependent versus field-independent; impulsive versus reflec-
tive). The present research adopted a style model much broader in scope in that
it describes multiple stylistic dimensions: Sternberg’s (1988, 1997) theory of
mental self-government.
Second, the emotions examined against intellectual styles have been isolated
and not those deemed important to a specific target group. The present study
examines five types of emotions addressed in Chickering’s (1969; Chickering
& Reisser, 1993) theory of psychosocial development targeted to university
students: happiness, attraction, anger, depression, and frustration. These emo-
tions were given special attention in Chickering’s work. According to him, these
emotions are important to young university students because recognizing and
effectively managing them would positively contribute to their formation of
identity—a critical component of psychosocial development.

Theory of Mental Self-Government and Its Research

Sternberg (1988, 1997) has contended that just as there are different ways of
governing a society, there are different ways in which people use their abilities,
which are known as thinking styles. According to Sternberg, 13 thinking styles
fall under five dimensions: function, form, level, scope, and leaning. Based on
both empirical data and theoretical arguments (Kogan, 1980; Messick, 1996),
Zhang (2003) reconceptualized the 13 thinking styles into three types.
Type I thinking styles include the legislative, judicial, hierarchical, global,
and liberal styles, and tend to be more creativity-generating and denote higher
levels of cognitive complexity. Type II thinking styles include the executive,
local, monarchic, and conservative styles, and suggest a norm-favoring tendency
and denote lower levels of cognitive complexity. Type III thinking styles include
500 The Journal of Psychology

the anarchic, oligarchic, internal, and external styles and may manifest the char-
acteristics of either Type I or Type II thinking styles, depending on the stylistic
demands of a task. In Appendix A, the main characteristics of each of the 13
thinking styles are described.
The notion of three types of intellectual styles (Zhang & Sternberg, 2005)
has been developed to accommodate additional style labels such as field-
independent/dependent styles and reflective/impulsive styles. For example, along
with Type I thinking styles, the field-independent and reflective styles were
classified as Type I intellectual styles. Along with Type II thinking styles, the
field-dependent and impulsive styles were classified as Type II intellectual styles.
Moreover, along with Type III thinking styles, the feeling and integrative styles
were classified as Type III intellectual styles. Individual styles from 10 theoreti-
cal models were organized into the three types of intellectual styles. In Appendix
B, the specific styles in each of the three types of intellectual styles are listed (see
Zhang & Sternberg, 2006, for definitions of individual styles).
Much empirical evidence has supported the validity of Sternberg’s (1988)
original theory and its reconceptualized notion of three types of thinking styles
(Kaufman, 2001; Zhang, 2005). The most frequently used testing tool is the
Thinking Styles Inventory (TSI; Sternberg & Wagner, 1992) and its revision,
the Thinking Styles Inventory–Revised (TSI-R; Sternberg, Wagner, & Zhang,
2003). Research using these inventories suggests that thinking styles vary as a
function of both personal characteristics (e.g., age, gender) and environmental
characteristics (e.g., nature of academic discipline). This research also indi-
cates that, in general, thinking styles make a difference in students’ academic
achievement, cognitive development, and psychosocial development (Zhang
& Sternberg, 2006). Chickering (1969)—and later, Chickering and Reisser
(1993)—delineated psychosocial development, which we examined in the
aforementioned research.

Chickering’s Theory of Psychosocial Development and Its Research

Theories of psychosocial development originated from Erikson’s (1959)

work. Such theories address developmental issues or tasks that occur throughout
one’s life, as well as one’s pattern of responses. Chickering (1969; Chickering
& Reisser, 1993) proposed seven vectors (i.e., dimensions) of developmental
tasks for university students in the United States: (a) developing competence, (b)
managing emotions, (c) developing autonomy, (d) establishing identity, (e) free-
ing interpersonal relationships, (f) developing purpose, and (g) developing integ-
rity. Since its publication, Chickering’s (1969) theory has been guiding much
of the research on university students’ psychosocial development and has been
operationalized through the Student Developmental Task and Lifestyle Inventory
(SDTLI; Winston, Miller, & Prince, 1987) and the Iowa Student Development
Inventory (ISDI; Hood, 1986, 1997).
Zhang 501

The ISDI is composed of seven inventories, each measuring one devel-

opmental task. In the managing emotions dimension, university students are
portrayed as becoming more aware of their emotions and more able to integrate
them as they advance through their education. Five types of both positive and
negative emotions are especially pertinent to university students: happiness,
attraction, anger, depression, and frustration. The Iowa Managing Emotions
Inventory (IMEI; Hood & Jackson, 1997) assesses these emotions.
Apart from being tested among students from two universities in Iowa dur-
ing the process of its development (White, 1986; White & Hood, 1989), the IMEI
has not been examined in any other study. Both existing studies, however, have
obtained satisfactory internal scale reliability data, with Cronbach’s alphas rang-
ing from the mid .70s to the mid .80s. Furthermore, the correlations among the
various scales ranged from the low .60s to the mid .70s. These high interscale
correlations indicated that the levels of differentiation among the five scales
could be improved.
These studies have also yielded a moderate amount of evidence for the
external construct validity of the IMEI. For example, students who demonstrated
higher levels of ability to manage their emotions (as this inventory measured)
tended to rate themselves higher on dimensions such as personal development
and social development; they also tended to rate themselves higher on critical
thinking and on their ability to understand diverse philosophies and cultures.
Students who evaluated themselves as being more capable of managing their
emotions also tended to earn higher grade point averages.
I adopted the IMEI because it has good reliability and validity data and was
designed to assess a wide range of emotions among university students. I also
adopted this inventory because I expect significant relations between these emo-
tions and the thinking styles defined in the theory of mental self-government,
on the basis of past finding that intellectual styles and emotions were closely
associated with each other.

The Present Study

There were two objectives of this study: to validate the IMEI among univer-
sity students in Hong Kong and, more important, to explore the predictive power
of thinking styles for students’ emotions.
Given that past research indicated that Type I intellectual styles (e.g., field-
independent style and reflective style) were associated with positive emotions
and that Type I thinking styles were related to attributes that are perceived as
being more positive (e.g., higher levels of self-esteem and cognitive develop-
ment; Zhang & Sternberg, 2006), it was predicted that in general, Type I thinking
styles would be statistically predictive of a higher capacity for managing one’s
emotions. Regarding Type II and Type III styles, I did not make specific hypoth-
eses because there was no foundation for making them. Furthermore, because
502 The Journal of Psychology

age and gender have been found to be significantly related to thinking styles
(e.g., Zhang & Sachs, 1997) in examining the relation between thinking styles
and emotions, this study took age and gender into account.



Participants were 99 university students (23 men and 76 women) in their

2nd year at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The participants ranged from
18–50 years old, with a mean age of 22 years (SD = 1.83 years) and a median
age of 21 years. Studying toward their bachelor’s degree in either education or
the arts, students from three sessions of an introductory educational psychology
course participated in the research in exchange for extra credit.


The participants responded to two self-report tests: the TSI-R (Sternberg,

Wagner, & Zhang, 2003) and the IMEI (Hood & Jackson, 1997).
Consisting of 65 statements, the TSI-R assesses the 13 thinking styles
described in Sternberg’s theory, with all five statements measuring 1 of the 13
thinking styles. For each statement, the participants rated themselves on a 7-point
response scale, with 1 indicating that the statement does not at all represent the
way in which they normally carry out their tasks, and 7 indicating that the state-
ment characterizes extremely well the way in which they normally carry out their
tasks. Two sample questions are (a) “When faced with a problem, I use my own
ideas and strategies to solve it” (i.e., legislative style); and (b) “I like to figure out
how to solve a problem following certain rules” (i.e., executive style).
The TSI-R has been used in more than a half dozen studies, including
Zhang’s (2004a) study of university students in Beijing, Zhang’s (2004b) study
of university students in Hong Kong, Fan’s (2006) study of university students
in Shanghai, Zhang’s (2005) study of Chinese business personnel in mainland
China, and Zhang and Higgins’s (2008) study of business personnel in Great
Britain. These studies obtained good psychometric data for the inventory.
In the present study, Cronbach’s alphas are .73, .66, .72, .60, .61, .83, .81,
.70, .64, .76, .64, .72, and .78, respectively, for the legislative, executive, judicial,
global, local, liberal, conservative, hierarchical, monarchic, oligarchic, anarchic,
internal, and external styles. These alpha coefficients are comparable in mag-
nitude to those reported in the aforementioned studies. An exploratory factor
analysis yielded a two-factor solution. The first factor was dominated by loadings
of Type I thinking styles. The second factor was dominated by loadings of Type
II thinking styles. Last, loadings of Type III thinking styles were split between
the first two factors. These results reveal good validity of the TSI-R because the
Zhang 503

first two factors are consistent with the characteristics of three types of think-
ing styles. Furthermore, they support the validity data from previous studies of
samples from not only the West (e.g., the United Kingdom, the United States) but
also Asia (e.g., Hong Kong, mainland China).
The IMEI (Hood & Jackson, 1997) measures Chickering’s managing emo-
tions dimension. Composed of 60 statements, this inventory pertains to five types
of emotions: happiness, attraction, anger, depression, and frustration. For each
statement, the respondents rated themselves on a 5-point response scale, with 1
indicating that the statement does not describe themselves at all regarding how
they feel or act in various situations, and 5 indicating that the statement repre-
sents extremely well how they feel or act in various situations.
Some of the statements are positively scored; others are reversely scored.
For example, the statement “I try to understand my own anger” is a positively
scored anger item (i.e., higher scores on this item indicate higher capacity for
dealing with anger). The statement “I rarely look beyond my feelings of anger
for causes,” however, is a reversely scored anger item (i.e., higher scores on this
item indicate lower capacity for dealing with anger).
The present study employed a Chinese version of the inventory. Linguistic
equivalency was obtained via the back-translation technique. As we discussed
previously, the two existing studies obtained reasonably good internal scale
reliability data and proved that the inventory possesses good external validity,
although its interscale correlations had much room for improvement.
Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for the present data are .68, .78, .70, .75, and
.52, respectively, for anger, depression, frustration, happiness, and attraction.
Although the first four alpha coefficients were similar in magnitude to those
in the two existing studies, the alpha coefficient for the attraction scale was
substantially lower than that reported in previous studies. The Pearson prod-
uct–moment correlations ranged from .31 to .72, and the majority fell below .40.
These interscale correlation coefficients suggest better differentiation among the
five scales than those obtained in the United States.

Data Analysis

I conducted preliminary statistical analyses to examine possible significant

group differences in the two main variables based on gender and age. I found no
gender difference in the thinking style and emotion scales. However, I identified
age differences in several scales across the two inventories. For example, older
students tended to score higher on the legislative, judicial, and internal thinking
styles and indicated better capability for dealing with frustration.
Two statistical analyses followed. First, I used a zero-order correlation
procedure to explore the basic relations between thinking styles and emotions.
Second, I used hierarchical multiple regressions in which thinking styles were
the independent variables, emotions were the dependent variables, and age was
504 The Journal of Psychology

the control variable because of its significant correlations with several of the
thinking styles. These regressions aimed to test the predictive power of thinking
styles for emotions when I took students’ ages into consideration.


Zero-Order Correlation Coefficients Between Thinking Styles and Emotions

Zero-order correlation coefficients suggest significant relation between

thinking styles and emotions. Of the 65 correlation coefficients (13 styles by 5
types of emotions), 22 (34%) were statistically significant. From the perspective
of thinking styles, the hierarchical style was most frequently involved in the sta-
tistically significant relations. The hierarchical style was significantly correlated
with all of the emotion scales except the attraction scale. From the perspective
of emotions, anger and frustration resulted in the largest number of statistically
significant correlations. Anger related to 6 of the 13 styles, with 4 Type I styles
(all but the global style) and 2 Type III styles (anarchic, external). Frustration was
related to 7 thinking styles, with 4 Type I styles (again, all but the global style),
and 3 Type II styles (conservative, executive, monarchic).
I identified three general patterns of correlations when I took all 22 statisti-
cally significant correlations into account. First, Type I styles were positively
associated with the ability to deal with emotions. Second, the anarchic and exter-
nal styles (two Type III styles) also had a positive relation with the ability to
deal with emotions. Last, significant correlations involving Type II styles were
inconsistent; the executive and monarchic styles were positively associated with
frustration, but the conservative style was negatively associated with the ability
to handle both frustration and depression.
It is important to mention that although statistically significant, the majority
of the correlations are weak and that the links of emotions to some styles are at
best tenuous. Detailed statistics are presented in Table 1.

Predicting Emotions From Thinking Styles, Controlling for Age

Results from hierarchical multiple-regressions indicated that statistically

significant predictive relations were obtained for all five types of emotions.
Across the five emotion scales, 6 of the 13 thinking styles were involved in the
statistically significant predictions. The anger scale was positively predicted by
the hierarchical style, with 9% of the variance in the former being explained
by the latter beyond age. The depression scale was positively predicted by the
hierarchical style but negatively predicted by the oligarchic style. The 2 styles
accounted for 17% of the variance in the depression scale beyond age. The frus-
tration scale was positively predicted by the hierarchical and liberal styles but
negatively predicted by the anarchic style. The 3 styles contributed to 20% of the
Zhang 505

TABLE 1. Zero-Order Correlation Coefficients for Thinking Styles and

Emotions (N = 99)

Scale Anger Depression Frustration Happiness Attraction

Legislative .31** .16 .26* .11 .05

Executive .06 .08 .23* .14 .17
Judicial .22* .18 .27* .22* .26*
Global –.02 –.06 –.09 .02 –.09
Local .20 .03 .11 –.03 .10
Liberal .27* .17 .31** .18 .09
Conservative –.16 –.22* –.22* –.10 .05
Hierarchical .28* .33** .32** .25* .14
Monarchic .07 –.04 .25* –.05 .08
Oligarchic .12 –.13 .08 .02 .01
Anarchic .27* .04 .07 .01 .06
Internal .09 .02 .03 –.10 –.12
External .26* .15 .22* .27* .08

p < .05. **p < .01.

variance in the frustration scale beyond age. The happiness scale was positively
predicted by the external and hierarchical styles but negatively predicted by the
anarchic style. The unique contribution of the 3 styles to the variance in happi-
ness over age was 18%. Last, the attraction scale was positively predicted by the
judicial styles and its unique contribution was 6%. See Table 2 for other details
from these regression procedures.


This study aimed to achieve two objectives: to validate the Chinese ver-
sion of the IMEI (Hood & Jackson, 1997) for a sample of university students
in Hong Kong and, more important, to understand the relations between
university students’ thinking styles and their capacity for being aware of and
managing their emotions, in particular, how their thinking styles contributed to
their capacity when researchers take age and gender into consideration. Both
objectives were achieved.
The IMEI scales yielded reliabilities that are comparable to those obtained
in the two existing studies of university students in the United States. It should
be noted that the internal scale reliability for the attraction scale (α = .52) was
substantially lower than that yielded by the U.S. data sets. This low internal
scale consistency could have resulted from several possibilities; most notably,
the notion of attraction might operate differently in the American culture and the
506 The Journal of Psychology

TABLE 2. Contributions of Thinking Styles to Emotions Beyond Age (N = 99)

Variable summary Model summary

Variable β weight R 2
F df

Age .11 .02a 2.109a 1, 77
Hierarchical .30** .11b 4.76b* 2, 76
Age .11 .04a 3.02a 1, 75
Hierarchical .41*** .15b 6.50b** 2, 74
Oligarchic –.26* .21c 6.49c** 1, 77
Age .15 .05a 3.79a 1, 73
Hierarchical .41** .14b 5.93b** 2, 72
Liberal .34** .20c 5.82c** 3, 71
Anarchic –.30* .25d 5.90d*** 4, 70
Age .14 .01a 1.10a 1, 76
External .33* .08b 3.66b* 2, 75
Anarchic –.36* .14c 3.97c* 3, 74
Hierarchical .27* .19d 4.13d** 4, 73
Age .09 .02a 1.31a 1, 76
Judicial .24* .08b 4.01b* 2, 75

Note. List-wise cases exclusion was used. aPredictors were constant and age. bPredictors
were constant, age, and the first style predictor. cPredictors were constant, age, the first
style predictor, and the second style predictor. dPredictors were constant, age, the first style
predictor, the second style predictor, and the third style predictor.
p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

Chinese culture. Thus, future studies using the Chinese version of this inventory
are recommended to further modify and test the items in the attraction scale. Out
of the many possible revisions of the items in the attraction scale, understanding
the meaning of attraction among American students and among Chinese students
is fundamental.
I can discuss the validity of the inventory from three perspectives. The first
pertains to the way in which the IMEI scales were correlated with one another.
On the one hand, the moderate strength of the correlation coefficients among the
scales suggests that the five scales assess an overarching construct: emotions. On
the other hand, this moderate magnitude indicates that the correlations among the
scales are low enough to be distinguished from one another.
Second, the validity of the inventory is evident through the fact that the older
students scored in the more favorable direction than did the younger ones on three of
Zhang 507

the five scales: anger, depression, and frustration. Chickering’s theoretical underpin-
nings expected this significant difference in emotions related to age. As they mature,
students become more aware of and better at integrating their emotions.
In the third perspective to determine the validity of the inventory, researchers
observe how the emotion scales were related to the thinking styles. The way in
which the two constructs were related to each other in the present data is largely
supportive of the research hypothesis of this study. As expected, Type I thinking
styles demonstrated the strongest predictive power for students’ ability to recog-
nize and manage their emotions. From this perspective, researchers determine
external validity of the IMEI.
Apart from exploring the general relations between emotions and thinking
styles by calculating zero-order correlation coefficients among the scales in the two
inventories, I tested the predictive power of thinking styles for emotions, taking
into consideration the effects of age on the two main variables. Putting together
the two sets of the resultant statistics, I found that although most thinking styles
(except the global, local, internal styles) are associated with emotions, only fewer
than half (6 of 13) were significant predictors for emotions. Although the positive
contributors to students’ abilities to cope with emotions are three of the five Type I
styles (hierarchical, liberal, judicial) and a Type III style (the external style), the
negative contributors are two Type III styles (anarchic, oligarchic).
Researchers could argue that given that only 6 of the 13 thinking styles sig-
nificantly contributed to the variance in emotions beyond age, these significant
results might have been obtained by statistical chance. I would maintain that
such an argument would be ill grounded. For at least three reasons, researchers
should argue that the statistically significant regression results were more likely
to reflect true variations in emotions as a function of thinking styles than to have
been obtained by statistical chance.
First, because there is no semantic resemblance between the statements in
the TSI-R and in the IMEI, the statistically significant relations found between
the two constructs cannot be considered coincidental. Second, the way in which
thinking styles contributed to the variance in emotions (i.e., Type I styles posi-
tively contributed to positive emotions or to better control of negative emotions)
is supportive of the predictions made earlier. It is more important that these
results make substantive sense. For example, both the liberal and hierarchical
styles predicted students’ scores on the frustration scale in a favorable direction.
An individual with a liberal thinking style prefers to engage in tasks that involve
novelty and ambiguity. An individual with a hierarchical thinking style tends to
distribute attention to several tasks that are prioritized according to his or her
valuing of the tasks. In both of these thinking styles, the propensity for taking
risks, working creatively, and taking on the challenges of the complexity of a
task is inherent. To illustrate, performing tasks in new ways (i.e., using the liberal
style) often involves the risk of failure because there is no guarantee for success
in taking up something new.
508 The Journal of Psychology

Likewise, prioritizing tasks may also encounter resistant forces because one’s
learning and work environment may not appreciate priorities. Yet, if the environ-
ment rewards such thinking styles (i.e., the use of such thinking styles are effec-
tive in dealing with the tasks at hand), an individual would become more assured
of his or her abilities. Such self-assurance would, in turn, help the individual to
better deal with the emotions—in particular, frustration, anger, and depressotypic
feelings—typically encountered when he or she challenges the well-established
rules (i.e., using creativity-generating styles). This logical argument, however,
accords with the fact that our regression analyses used the thinking style scales
as the independent variables and the emotion scales as the dependent variables.
Such a discussion does not imply a causal relation between the two constructs.
It is possible that an individual’s high capacity for dealing with negative feelings
such as frustration, anger, and depression enables him or her to use creativity-
generating styles more often. A further caution is that people’s intellectual styles
are malleable (Zhang & Sternberg, 2006). In an institution in which Type II styles
are highly appreciated, using these styles may allow students to become more
aware of and better at dealing with their emotions.
Last, the statistically significant results were more likely to be reflective of the
true differences in emotions partially because of thinking styles and because these
findings are consistent with previous ones that suggested that intellectual styles are
important in emotions. In particular, the main result of the present study supports
the past general finding that Type I styles are more conducive to the development
of people’s abilities to deal with negative emotions and to the enhancement of
positive emotions (e.g., Campbell & Douglas, 1972; Deng et al., 2000; Hayden et
al., 2006). Given these reasons, despite the fact that only 6 of the 13 thinking styles
were statistically significant in predicting students’ emotions, researchers should
conclude that thinking styles—along with factors such as culture, age, gender, and
school environment—are significant in students’ emotions.
Readers would want to know how I would interpret some of the apparently
contradictory findings. For example, theoretically, the same style (i.e., the anarchic
style) would be related to negative emotions (i.e., anger, frustration) in the same
direction, whether positive or negative. However, although the zero-order correla-
tion procedure revealed a positive relation between the anarchic style and the anger
scale, regression results indicated that the anarchic style was a negative contributor
to the frustration scale. One possible explanation is that although anger and frustra-
tion are related because both are negative emotions, they could differ significantly.
As a result, they are related to the same thinking style (i.e., the anarchic style) in dif-
ferent fashions. However, it should be noted that the correlation coefficient between
the anarchic style and anger was .27 and significant only at the .05 statistical level.
By the same token, the anarchic style was the third predictor for the frustration scale,
after the hierarchical and liberal styles. These data indicate that the relations of the
anarchic style to the two types of emotions are rather weak. Therefore, these find-
ings should not be taken at face value. Such an explanation, of course, is only a post
Zhang 509

hoc conjecture. Further research needs to find out the complexity of the relations
between particular thinking styles and each type of emotion.

Limitations, Conclusions, and Implications

This study has three limitations. First, the research sample could be biased
because the participants were from merely two academic disciplines. Thus,
the results may not apply to students in other disciplines. Second, the Chinese
version of the IMEI was tested for the first time among university students in
Hong Kong. Although the psychometric properties of the inventory are gener-
ally good, further testing needs to determine the efficacy of the inventory in
assessing the emotions of university students in Hong Kong. Third, inherent in
this study might be a cultural bias because the IMEI is grounded in a theory
intended for university students in the United States. Given the many differ-
ences between the American and Chinese higher education systems, the factors
that interact with thinking styles to contribute to the development of students’
positive emotions (or effective management of negative emotions) may be
more complex than those I described here. With these limitations, the study can
be viewed as only exploratory, and its results should be considered tentative
rather than definitive.
Regardless of these limitations, the significance of this study can be derived
from two major findings. First, the present study has obtained initial evidence for
the IMEI among a sample of university students in Hong Kong. Further investiga-
tion of the reliability and validity of the inventory for measuring the emotions of
university students in Hong Kong, as defined in Chickering’s theory, is necessary
because the present study was only the first of its kind, and because the internal
reliability for one of the scales (i.e., attraction) was relatively low. Nevertheless,
the initial reliability and validity data determined in this study denote that the
inventory may become a potential assessment tool for university counselors in
Hong Kong in helping students to understand and manage their emotions.
Second and more important, although the relational patterns of emotions to
the Type II and the anarchic styles were not clear, it is obvious that Type I think-
ing styles and the external thinking style were strongly and positively associated
with (and some even significantly predicted) students’ emotions. Furthermore,
it was established that the oligarchic style was strongly and negatively associ-
ated with (and significantly predicted) students’ emotions. This general finding
aligns with Zhang’s (2002a, 2008) finding that Type I thinking styles positively
contributed to students’ psychosocial development, including their sense of pur-
pose (Zhang, 2002a) and sense of identity (Zhang, 2008). The present findings
have advanced our understanding of the significant function of thinking styles in
psychosocial development.
As I reviewed earlier, the importance of thinking styles goes beyond its role
in student learning. Previous studies have shown that thinking styles are related
510 The Journal of Psychology

to attributes such as self-esteem (Zhang & Postiglione, 2001), career personality

types (Zhang, 2000), cognitive development (Zhang, 2002b), and personality
traits (Zhang & Huang, 2001). Studies that investigated other style constructs
found similar results. For example, I found that the field-dependence versus
field-independence construct was significantly related to attributes such as moral
maturity (e.g., Schleifer & Douglas, 1973) and sense of identity (e.g., Bhatnager
& Rastogi, 1986), as well as emotions (Campbell & Douglas, 1972; Deng et al.,
On the basis of repeated empirical evidence for the intricately entwined
link between intellectual styles and other human attributes—including that
between thinking styles and students’ emotions—researchers would argue that
thinking styles and emotions should be considered as two integral parts of a
holistic student development at a scientific level. Moreover, at a practical level,
researchers would argue that the present findings, like many of the earlier ones,
call for joint ventures between teaching faculty and student development edu-
cators to achieve their goal of fostering students’ well-rounded development.
Teaching faculty could support students in developing their capacity for deal-
ing with emotions by promoting a wide range of thinking styles—in particular,
Type I styles and the external style—and discouraging students from taking on
too many tasks without any priority (i.e., avoiding using the oligarchic style).
Meanwhile, student development educators could facilitate students’ effective
use of thinking styles by helping them to understand and manage their emo-
tions better.

Li-fang Zhang is an associate professor and the associate dean (Research Higher
Degrees) in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong. Her recent book
with Robert J. Sternberg is titled The Nature of Intellectual Styles (Routledge, 2006). Her
research interests include intellectual styles, giftedness, personality, and student develop-
ment in higher education.


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Original manuscript received July 24, 2007

Final version accepted October 31, 2007

Thinking Styles in the Theory of Mental Self-Government

Dimension Thinking style Key characteristics

The Journal of Psychology

Function Legislative Work on tasks that require creative strategies; one prefers to choose one’s own activities.
Executive Work on tasks with clear instructions and structures; one prefers to implement tasks with
established guidelines.
Judicial Work on tasks that allow for one’s evaluation; one prefers to evaluate and judge the performance
of other people.
Form Hierarchical Distribute attention to several tasks that are prioritized according to one’s valuing of the tasks.
Monarchic Work on tasks that allow complete focus on one thing at a time.
Oligarchic Work on multiple tasks in the service of multiple objectives, without setting priorities.
Anarchic Work on tasks that would allow flexibility as to what, where, when, and how one works.
Level Global Pay more attention to the overall picture of an issue and to abstract ideas.
Local Work on tasks that require working with concrete details.
Scope Internal Work on tasks that allow one to work as an independent unit.
External Work on tasks that allow for collaborative ventures with other people.
Leaning Liberal Work on tasks that involve novelty and ambiguity.
Conservative Work on tasks that allow one to adhere to the existing rules and procedures in performing tasks.
Three Types of Intellectual Styles

Style type/construct Type I Type II Type III

Learning approach Deep Surface Achieving
Career personality type Artistic Conventional Realistic, investigative,
social, enterprising
Mode of thinking Holistic Analytic Integrative
Personality type Intuitive, perceiving Sensing, judging Thinking, feeling,
Mind style Concrete random Concrete sequential Abstract random,
abstract sequential
Decision-making style Innovation Adaptation
Conceptual tempo Reflectivity Impulsivity
Structure of intellect Divergent thinking Convergent thinking
Perceptual style Field independent Field dependent
Thinking style Legislative, judicial, Executive, local, Oligarchic, anarchic,
global, hierarchical, monarchic, conservative internal, external

Note. Theoretical foundations: aBiggs’s theory of student learning (J. B. Biggs, 1978); bHolland’s theory of career personality types (J. L. Holland,
1973); cTorrance’s construct of brain dominance (E. P. Torrance, 1988); dJung’s theory of personality types (C. Jung, 1923); eGregorc’s model of mind
styles, (A. F. Gregorc, 1979); fKirton’s model of decision-making styles (M. J. Kirton, 1976); gKagan’s model of reflectivity-impulsivity conceptual
tempo (J. Kagan, 1965); hGuilford’s model of structure of intellect (J. P. Guilford, 1967); iWitkin’s construct of field-dependence/independence (H. A.
Witkin, 1962); jSternberg’s theory of mental self-government (R. J. Sternberg, 1988).
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