Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Soldier’s Learning Styles

Possible relationships between a soldier’s perceptual style and how they experience post-traumatic stress

There are several theories that have endeavored to provide an interaction of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the perceptual style of the victims. To start with, social-cultural influence has been seen to be potentially vital in comprehending panic disorder development. According to Kimerling, Ouimette and Wolfe (2002, p. 208), the fact that individuals usually perceive stressful events as both uncontrollable and unpredictable could be viewed as a form of psychological vulnerability. Consequently, there is a high likelihood that an individual could end up developing a panic disorder, such as PTSD. The basis of such a perception style mainly stems from the direct experience and learning history of an individual with stressors. In the case of soldiers, they could be veterans of a war in which they had to experience their colleagues die in combat, and at a time when they flashback to these cities episodes, this tends to trigger panic attacks that could eventually culminate into PTSD.

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Essentially, individuals have been noted to utilize three perceptual styles: Auditory (hearing), visual, (seeing) and Kinesthetic (taste, touch, and smell). Since individuals have a tendency to desire one perceptual style compared to others, this turns out to be the dominant way that such individuals are able to view the world around them. This is also true for soldiers as well. Visual individuals are concerned with hearing vivid descriptions, in addition to their desire to see pictures. On the other hand, auditory individuals have a preference for lengthy explanations, in addition to animated voice tones. In contrast, kinesthetic individuals are more likely to participate in exercise, feel and touch things. Gardner (1983, p. 63) has opined that the predominating form of intelligence that is common amongst soldiers is of the kinesthetic form.

PTSD is a form of traumatic memory. Accordingly, Wilson and Keane (p. 20), argue that the first ‘experiencing criterion’ of PTSD entails intrusive and recurrent distressing accounts of a traumatic event. Such a recollection could encompass thoughts, images, or perception. All the different elements of traumatic memory have been integrated into the reexperiencing criteria for PTSD. In this regard, such raw images as ‘visual memory of parts of experience” (Wilson & Keane p. 20), perceptual processes (that is, olfactory, visual, tactile, sensory, and kinesthetic), in addition to disorganized and organized thoughts. Going by the foregoing argument, it may be opined that soldiers utilize both visual as well as kinesthetic perceptual styles. Therefore, they are more likely to make use of the same styles when they relive traumatic events that could be a source of stress to them, ultimately leading to their being diagnosed with PTSD.

Concept of the cognitive style

Hayes and Allison (1998, p. 848) have defined cognitive style as the manner in which individuals are able to perceive stimuli and utilize this kind of information as a pointer to their behavior (behavior in this case could include feeling, thinking, as well as actions). Diverse perspectives have been applied in the study of cognitive styles, with the result that various authors have opted to come up with their individual assessment instruments for the cognitive style (Hodgkinson & Sadler-Smith, 2003, P. 245).

Research indicates that differences in cognitive style significantly influence learning, perception, decision making, problem solving, interpersonal functioning, communication, and creativity (Hayes & Allinson, 1998, p. 849; Kirton, 2003, p. 23; Sadler-Smith, 1998, p. 190).

According to Cassidy (2004, p. 419), there are three fundamental elements that distinguish cognitive styles. To start with, there is stability or generality over time and across tasks. Consequently, cognitive style of learning may be said to oppose change and training. Secondly, cognitive styles are characterized by relative independence with respect to the conventional general ability measures. Thirdly, there is a correlation between on the one hand, the cognitive styles and on the other hand, certain specific characteristics, abilities, and learning tasks. In this case, cognitive styles could be said to enjoy negative or positive relationships with academic achievement and motivation, based on the environment that characterizes the task of learning.

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Curry (2000, p. 245) is of the opinion that it is possible to enhance the field of cognitive styles via the application of three approaches that are also interrelated. To start with, we could apply a theoretical categorization in the perplexing collection of conceptualizations and definitions, as concerns the cognitive style concept. The second approach involves a vivid accumulation and demonstration of measures that are both reliable and valid, with a view to ascertaining that they fulfill the minimum requirements for interpretation and use. Finally, there is the issue of an incessant consideration of how relevant the field of cognitive styles is for purposes of answering such questions as ‘so what’.

Literature concerning the field of cognitive styles is both fragmented and extensive. As a result, these two characteristics play a pivotal role in challenging the concept’s feasibility from the point of view of practitioners and researchers (Hodgkinson & Sadler-Smith, 2003, p. 257; Kozhevnikov, 2007, p. 476). Cassidy (2004, p. 46) has argued that this could be due to the fact that the field is quite diverse in nature. Additionally, copious research studies that have been carried out to further shed light on cognitive styles of learning. Furthermore, the domains in this area of study are also diverse, not to mention that different studies shall differ with regard to aims. A total of 71 cognitive models and theories have been identified by Coffield and colleagues (2004, p. 46). Previously, more than 100 cognitive style instruments had also been identified by Curry (2000, p. 134). As a result of this diversity, incomparable results that were also conceptually fragmented emerged. Riding (2000, p. 373) has opined that there is a need for the research into cognitive styles to not only recognize, but also confirm the basic dimensions of the cognitive style.

A number of authors have thus far endeavored to bring about order by way of categorizing and integrating diverse theories of cognitive styles (Cassidy, 2004, p. 422) In addition to the aforementioned theoretical works, several scholars have been very instrumental in exploring the possibility of adding several instruments of cognitive style into this field concurrently. This has especially been the case with regard to experimental studies (for example, Edwards, Lanning & Hooker, 2002, p. 444). It was the intention of these scholars to recognize the basic cognitive style elements within the context of the familiar features of the various models.

The visual-haptic ‘cognitive style theory’

The visual-haptic ‘cognitive style theory’ as postulated by Lowenfeld provides that whereas a number of individuals are in a position to learn visually, there is yet a group of other individuals who have a preference for learning through the application of such other senses as kinesthetic and touch. The “visuals-haptics” theory as held by Lowenfeld differs fundamentally when compared with other related theories that are either of “low visual capability and preference” or “high visualizing capability and preference”, in that Lowenfeld’s theory has the potential to not only create a mental imagery, but also to unite visual elements. In his theory, Lowenfeld examines in depth subjective color responses, especially from the point of view of children. Accordingly, the author attempts to encourage that color be personified as a potential stimulation technique for application at the classroom by art teachers.

The description that has been provided by Lowenfeld has acted to reinforce the fact that color experience is of great significance in as far as children’s imaginative thinking is concerned. Lowenfeld (1970, p. 100) made a distinction between on the one hand, individuals that have an inclination towards utilizing eyes to act as the chief mediator of the impressions that they experience through their sense and on the other hand, individuals who despite the fact that they could be having a normal sight, nevertheless fail to utilize their eyes, instead opting to rely on perception which emanates from haptical experiences. Chances of encountering an individual who is also an extreme haptical are remote. This is a person whose eyesight is quite normal. On the other hand, a person who is a haptical only gets to utilize their eyes under duress. If not, such a person reacts in a similar manner to an individual who is blind, and who is wholly reliant on kinesthesia and touch (Lowenfeld, 1954, p101). The implication that we get from this definition is that those learners that are more inclined to assume the behaviors of haptic type personalities could as well be in need of help when they are handling instructional materials that demands that visual information contained therein be retained.

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Individuals that are visually oriented make use of their vision to familiarize themselves with their surroundings. There are five components that make up the wider dimension that is visual perception. These are visual discrimination, spatial relations, visual closure, fore-ground discrimination, and object recognition. Spatial relations indicate the perception an individual has with regard to the position occupied by objects in space. For example, while reading, it is important that words are viewed as separate entities, with space surrounding them (Fletcher, 1969, p. 6). On the other hand, visual discrimination is a term used in reference to the ability of an individual to distinguish between two or more objects. For purposes of reading and learning, it is important that learners are in a position to discriminate words and letters visually. The ability of an individual to discriminate objects on the one hand and the surrounding background to such an object on the other hand, is termed fore-ground discrimination (Holzman, 1954, p. 377). Those individuals that have been noted to have haptic tendencies place more emphasis on sensations that are usually experienced via kinesthetic/tactile mode. Whereas tactile has to do with touch sensation, kinesthetic on the other hand, refers to the use of movements and reactions of tendons, muscles, or even joints for sensational experiences.

Hypothetically, haptic and visual styles of learning occupy “the extreme ends of a continuum of perceptual organisation of the external environment” (p. 181). It has been noted that a majority of people usually fall in between the two extremes. Persons that are visually oriented are not able to adapt to a given situation via means of kinesthetic and touch functions with ease. As individuals advance in age, their haptic and visual perception also tends to diminish in importance. This possibly is regarded as more of developmental effect as an increasing number of individuals turns more visual as they advance in age. Compared with other forms of perceptual styles, haptic perceptual style has a lot more significance amongst adults.

Lowenfeld (1970, p. 107) discovered that individuals with visual learning abilities had a higher chance of discriminating against details that were visual. Furthermore, their reaction was also noted to be more impersonal. On the other hand, haptic learners were not in a position to discriminate details that were visual, and had a higher chance of reacting to situations with more emotions. Lowenfeld revealed that a number of individuals that were partially blind had the ability to make use of the little sight that they possessed to view either an object or for purposes of enabling them apply for example, clay modeling as a way of expressing themselves. Similarly, individuals that were also partially blind were not in a position to utilize their eyes. However, these individuals found it more useful to apply touch senses. Similar tendencies were also identified by Lowenfeld amongst a group of individuals with a normal sight that he had tested.

According to Lowenfeld, infancy perception is usually haptic to start with, but it later on becomes visual to a majority of the people. The exceptions in this case are individuals that are partly or totally blind. During a child’s formative years, haptic perception predominates. However, this is soon displaced by visual perception before young adult reach puberty. It is the position of Lowenfeld that this could be the reason behind, albeit to a certain degree, the inability of some children to go on with their art studies past adolescence. The assumption here is that visual perception modes predominate, in addition to the fact that in the teaching of art, teachers rely on the visual methods.

There are a number of studies that are in support of the percentages of haptics and visual percentages as indicated by Lowenfeld. For example, Peddie (1952) in a study that explored the association between literacy creativity and haptic perception amongst children revealed that the group that the author assessed exceeded that demonstrated by children in the visual group. Accordingly, the author arrived at the conclusion that there is a higher correlation between literary work and haptic perception, as opposed to visual perception. Rouse (1965) managed to establish a connection between, on the one hand, haptic/visual and on the other hand, field-independence/field-dependence. In this case, impulsive/reflective visuals had a higher chance of also being reflective, as opposed to impulsive, based on the test results of a visual assessment. The haptics were seen to commit far more errors compared with visuals, meaning that they were more impulsively-inclined (Lowenfeld, 1970, p. 107) reports of a study that had university students as its subjects. The authors discovered a correlation between formal/Piagetian concrete continuum and haptic/visual continuum. Just like the case with intellectual development, perceptual style bore a correlation with age.

The Successive Perception Test1 (SPT1) instrument

The Successive Perception Test1 (SPT1) instrument is used to measure Lowenfeld’s visual/haptic typology. Accordingly, it is the intention of this study to make use of this instrument in order to understand the perceptual and cognitive learning styles of the soldier with post traumatic stress disorder (Lowenfeld, 1970, p. 107). It is possible for a researcher to apply ‘a median score split’, with the intention of classifying the subjects t to a study as either Low Visual or Hi Visual, within the context of cognitive style. Such a classification is in line with Lowenfeld’s classic.

How to conduct effective and ethical qualitative interviews

For a long time now, researchers have been relying on interviews as a valuable technique for data collection. In undertaking a research interview that is qualitative in design, it is important to note that this could prove to be an intricate social interaction capable of not only being influenced by, but also to influence the study participants and the researchers alike. Due to the complexity that surrounds qualitative research, the conduction of qualitative interviews therefore demands that certain ethical arguments be reflected on and evaluated properly, seeing that the level of complexity in qualitative research fails to make room for the use of those ethical protocols that have been specially designed to suit qualitative researchers (Morse, 1994, p. 307).

In order to ensure that quantitative interviews are conducted in an effective and ethical manner, it is important for the researcher to ensure that they take into account issues of confidentiality and informed consent, as these affects the respondents to the study. Maintaining high levels of secrecy of the participants to a study is important, and the same case goes to the research findings of a study. There are three dimensions that are usually followed when researchers have to handle data that is confidential. First, there is a need to ensure that individual, along with their autonomy, are respected (Morse, 1994, p. 307). Furthermore, the participants need to have freedom to enable them maintain secrecy and privacy. Furthermore, the sharing of secrets need only happen when consent has been sought form the participants in a study. Finally, it is important to put in mind that maintaining confidentiality is an indication that the right and desire of each of the individuals involved in a research study have been acknowledged, in terms of information sharing.

Best practices in conducting qualitative interviews

There are various techniques that qualitative interviews may adopt for purposes of data collection. The most common techniques include observation, in-depth interviews, and focus group observations. Observation as a technique in qualitative interview can be both structured and participant observation. With structured observation, the intention of a researcher is to document certain patterns of a given scenario or situation that informs a research study, for example, understanding the cognitive and learning styles of soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this case, data collection for the qualitative study shall be through the observation of the participants in the research study. The research is thus charged with the responsibility of observing and recording what they observe. The data collected is then used to report findings to the research. On the other hand, participant observation entails the interview engaging and interaction with the respondents to the study. They are able to take notes of the interaction with the participants and the kind of talk is usually informal. The data obtain is then used to present research findings to the study.

As a technique in qualitative research, in-depth interviews enable ‘person to person’ discussion to take place (Rubin, 2005, p. 129). A benefit of using this technique is that the researcher is in a position to gain additional insight into the feelings, thoughts, as well as behavior of the study’s subjects. Since in-depth interviews are not usually structured, this enables an interviewer to offer encouragement to his/her subjects so that they may delve into the issue of interest in the study at length. Furthermore, the interview approach that is adopted by in-depth interviews is also flexible.

The design of focus group discussions is that the interviewer is at a position to gain information regarding the attitudes and beliefs of a given research problem or issue in question (Rubin, 2005, p. 129). Unlike individual interviews, focus group discussions enable for the different members of the group to interact amongst themselves. They are also different from surveys in that they enable participants to provide comprehensive outlook regarding a given research topic.

Special ethical issues an interviewer may encounter in interviewing stressed soldiers

Interviewing stressed soldiers is a process that could lead to an interviewer experiencing certain ethical issues. To start with, the interviewer may ask questions that the respondents may deem as being both personal and private, in which case they will feel uncomfortable answering them. Furthermore, there are also other questions that an interviewee would not wish to discuss with an interviewer, especially if they invoke memories of as traumatic event that triggers symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Also, there is a way in which an interviewer could frame their questions to the subjects, and the subjects could regard them as being tricky and doggy, and this may again interfere with their ability to candidly answer the research questions during an interview. Sometimes, the subjects may also not be sure about how much they are supposed to reveal during the interview, and this could either see them divulging too much information. Alternatively, the subjects could provide too little information. Also, subjects may not be convinced if at all the interviewer is in a position to guarantee confidentiality regarding their responses to a qualitative interview on the research issues at hand. Subjects are therefore apprehensive as to how these kinds of promises shall in the long-term be fulfilled.

Dealing with potential ethical issues in conducting a study on stressed soldiers

It is important that the researcher is able to discuss with the study subjects how they intend to protect the confidentiality of the information that they obtain by conducting qualitative interviews. One way by which this could be done is to ensure that interview transcripts are applied during the actual research interview. This is important, so that once the data collected has been stored in the form of transcripts, the same could be provided to the subjects to enable them view and assess it. This way, the respondents shall be assured that the information that they provide to the respondents in kind will not be altered. In addition, the researcher should also tryi to avoid using questions that are too personal, hence making the respondents uncomfortable. This may be overcome by presenting the interview questionnaire.

Reference

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Edwards, J.A., Lanning, K. and Hooker, K. (2002) The MBTI and social information processing: an incremental validity study. Journal of Personality Assessment, 78, 432-450.

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