Cognitive complexity revisited

Watts, Jenny (1987). Cognitive complexity revisited. PhD thesis The Open University.



Cognitive Complexity is an important and obtrusive phenomenon over a wide range of situations, and is worthy of study in its own right. Although the term "Cognitive Complexity" occurs in an informal way in the psychological literature, there is no general agreement about what it means or connotes.

A new approach was needed in order to re-conceptualise cognitive complexity. This re-conceptualisation originated in the unobtrusive observation of cognitive complexity in a relatively free, uncontrolled and naturalistic environment. From this came the formulation of an appropriate and explicit methodology, which encouraged subjects to display cognitive complexity in an unhurried way in a private interview situation by talking about topics in the news and personal issues. Initial experimental techniques (including an impressionistic analysis, pen pictures and a content analysis), led on to the development of the main analysis which identified types of cognitive complexity and their constituents in the interview transcripts. The types of cognitive complexity identified were true (divided into outstanding and pedestrian), disjunctive, borderline, no cognitive complexity and secondhand cognitive complexity. The main constituents of true cognitive complexity (outstanding) were systemic and penetrating thinking, independence of thought and truth-seeking. Pedestrian cognitive complexity was characterised by analogical and investigative reasoning, clarity and incisiveness.

The importance of this re-conceptualisation of cognitive complexity is that it has resulted in the development of a new methodology which facilitates the display by subjects of more than one type of cognitive complexity. This methodology which identifies the types of cognitive complexity can be applied in real-life situations in which people are facing complex decisions.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions