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Not All Great Minds Think Alike: Systematic and Intuitive Cognitive Styles


  • This project was supported by the Recanati Fund of the School of Business Administration at the Hebrew University to the first author and by the Edward Hechtkopf and Solomon Family Fellowships to the second author. We thank Tammy Rubel-Lifschitz, Avihay Berlin, Andrey Elster, Keren More, and Naomi Goldblum for their useful comments on earlier drafts of this article. We also wish to thank Niva Porzycki, Nir Halevi, and Tamar Bornstein for their help in collecting the data.


Individuals process information and make decisions in different ways. Some plan carefully and analyze information systematically, whereas others follow their instincts and do what “feels right.” We aimed to deepen our understanding of the meaning of the intuitive versus systematic cognitive styles. Study 1 (N = 130, 39% female, Mage = 24) compared cognitive styles of arts, accounting, and mathematics students. Cognitive styles were associated with values (Study 2: N = 154, 123, 78; female = 59%, 49%, 85.9%; Mage = 22, 23, 27) and traits (Study 3: N = 77, 140, 151; female = 59%, 66%, 46%; Mage = 22, 25, 23), and they interacted with experience in predicting performance (Study 4: N = 63, 48% female, Mage = 23; Study 5: N = 44, 39% female, Mage = 23). All participants were Caucasian Israeli students. The systematic style was most frequent among accountants, and the intuitive style was most frequent among artists, validating the meaning of the styles. Systematic style was positively correlated with Conscientiousness and with security values and negatively correlated with stimulation values. The intuitive style had the opposite pattern and was also positively correlated with Extraversion. Experience improved rule-based performance among systematic individuals but had no effect on intuitive ones. Cognitive style is consistent with other personal attributes (traits and values), with implications for decision making and task performance.