The relationship of leveling-sharpening cognitive controls and manifest anxiety to the accuracy of visual size judgments

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INTRODUCTION The Problem Cognitive controls are important for the understanding of perceptual, motivational, and other personality processes is a set of variables which have been variously termed cognitive controls(55, 70, 105), cognitive system-principles (43, 102), cognitive attitudes (39, 55, 100), cognitive styles (28, 59), perceptual attitudes (53, 56, 61), Anschauungen (53), coping modes (60), and regulatory structures or delay mechanisms (55), Cognitive controls are stable patterns or styles of response characteristic of an individual in a wide variety of situations but differing considerably from one individual to another. They have been described as preferred ways of solving tasks requiring adaptation, and they serve as regulating structures which ‘Modulate, facilitate, inhibit, counteract or otherwise qualify the discharge of need-tension in behavior” (55). Cognitive controls have been defined as “sets or dispositions of the organism--a sort of prevailing structure- -which determine the pattern or style of an individual's response to situations” (70). Whereas needs, drives, and other motivational forces serve to energize or “push” behavior, these control aspects of personality act to channelize, direct, and regulate behavior. These control processes have been emphasized and have had extensive experimental investigation by G. S. Klein (15, 16, 28, 37, 39, 43, 44, 53-37, 59, 61, 100, 102, 103, 105), K. S. Lazarus (69, 70, 71), H. A, Witkin (125, 126), and their respective associates and students, particularly In the field of perception. A number of control dimensions have been isolated and found to account for a significant amount of the individual differences in perceptual and motivational studies. Among these dimensions are “tolerance vs. resistance to the unstable” and “physiognomic vs, literal” (53, 54, 60, 61), “categorizing behavior” (28), “focusing** (lOO), “interference proneness** (55, 70), "verbalness” (70), and the one used in the present experiment, “leveling vs. sharpening** (37, 39, 43, 53, 54, 56, 57, 60, 90, 102, 103). Leveling and Sharpening. Leveling and Sharpening cognitive controls were operationally defined by Klein and his co-workers in terms of a dimension of perceptual accuracy. The defining task (The Schematizing Test) requires the subject to judge the size of squares presented visually, the sizes increasing gradually as the task continues. In their early studies the Klein group analyzed the subjects' responses to this task for stable patterns, and identified at least two major modes or styles of response: progressive underestimation leading to inaccurate judgment, and appropriate shifting resulting in consistently high accuracy of judgment. The individuals at the lower end of the accuracy distribution were called Levelers, and those at the upper end were called Sharpeners (53). Subsequent experimentation led to a more precise characterization of these cognitive controls, Klein found that Levelers had greater difficulty in separating figure from ground in three situations, including the Gottschaldt figures test (53). Holzrean (39), working with Klein (43) demonstrated that assimilation effects in visual, auditory, and kinesthetic time-error were greater for Levelers than for Sharpeners, Using a Gestalt neurophysiological model to explain their findings, Holzman and Klein suggested that differences between Levelers and Sharpeners may be due to characteristic differences in the brain field: Levelers have weaker boundaries between traces in the brain field, and there is a tendency for greater exchange of energy between traces. Noting Koffka's (62) explanation of retroactive inhibition as being due to the interference with each other of similar traces, Holzman predicted that if trace boundaries are weaker in Levelers, this group should show greater retroactive inhibition than Sharpeners (39). Sharpeners should more easily maintain the discrete differences between stimuli, resulting in more accurate discrimination and less interference. The purpose of the present experiment was to demonstrate the generality of Leveling and Sharpening in a new situation, and to assess the influence of these controls on the expression of some type of motivational or drive behavior. Since a great deal of work had been done recently with manifest anxiety. Interpreted as drive (108, 116), this variable was selected for study in conjunction with the Leveling-Sharpening cognitive controls.



This thesis was digitized as part of a project begun in 2014 to increase the number of Duke psychology theses available online. The digitization project was spearheaded by Ciara Healy.



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