EVALUATING THE "one positive study"

Some of Pashler et al.’s (in press) comments about . . .

Sternberg, R.J., Grigorenko, E.L., Ferrari, M., & Clinkenbeard, P. (1999). A triarchic analysis
of an aptitude–treatment interaction. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 15, 1–11.

In this study, high school students were given a test that measured each student’s analytical,
creative, and practical abilities. “[T]he authors selected . . . 112 subjects for whom one of these three abilities
was much higher than the other two . . .”
These students then took an introductory psychology course.

“[E]ach student was randomly assigned to class meetings that emphasized analytical instruction, creative
instruction,  practical instruction, or memory instruction (a control condition).” (23)

Because the class assignments were random, some students received instruction that matched
their strongest ability--their learning style--and other students did not.

“The article states that, after the data were ‘screened for deviant scores’ . . . matched subjects reliably outscored
mismatched subjects on two of the three kinds of assessments.”

Unfortunately, “the study has peculiar features that make us view it as providing only tenuous evidence.
For one thing . . . the untransformed outcome measures (e.g., the mean score on each final assessment) were
not reported for the different conditions. Furthermore, [the learning styles effect] was achieved only after
the outliers were excluded for unspecified reasons. In brief, although the article presents data that may be
worth following up, it has serious methodological issues.” (24)

Finally, Pashler et al. point out that the analytical/creative/practical model of individual differences
“does not seem to correspond to any of the more widely promoted and used learning-styles interventions
[such as the Kolb model or the Dunn & Dunn model].”

To return to the discussion of claims about learning styles, click here.