According to Wikipedia, Cognitive Style is defined as this:

Cognitive style or "thinking style" is a term used in cognitive psychology to describe the way individuals think, perceive and remember information. Cognitive style differs from cognitive ability (or level), the latter being measured by aptitude tests or so-called intelligence tests.

Controversy exists over the exact meaning of the term cognitive style and also as to whether it is a single or multiple dimension of human personality. However, it remains a key concept in the areas of education and management.

If a pupil has a cognitive style that is similar to that of his/her teacher, the chances that the pupil will have a more positive learning experience are improved. Likewise, team members with similar cognitive styles likely feel more positive about their participation with the team.

While matching cognitive styles may make participants feel more comfortable when working with one another, this alone cannot guarantee the success of the outcome.

From this definition, it could possibly be transferred to personas if you have a target audience meeting certain cognitive styles. But would it be beneficiary or even wanted? There are a few problems, such as determining the cognitive style of a user. This cannot be easily accomplished and probably would require a lot of testing of the users first.

Still, I find it interesting, and if one could determine cognitive style would it be possible to add these attributes to personas?

  • IMO completely opinion-based... Jan 2, 2014 at 14:37
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    Then there is also the Big Five Personality Traits – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits – inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious, efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless, outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved, friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached, and sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident
    – Erics
    Jan 2, 2014 at 17:37

2 Answers 2


If you accept that useful personas are data-driven, then the inclusion of cognitive style demands a lot of additional research. When I do user personas, I base them on user interviews, user surveys, interviews with sales teams and customer support as well as actual traffic patterns (Google Analytics, etc). If I were to assign a cognitive style to each persona, I would expect to include a dozen or so survey questions cribbed from the MMPI or MBTI, or a similar personality test. That might provide enough information to assert a cognitive style.

Cognitive style could be a really valuable metric, or trait, assigned to personas, but to make it real, you will have to do a lot of research first.

  • Nice Answer Rob! I wonder what MMPI and MBTI stands for. I've never heard of them before (but as you write, they are personality tests). Do they address cognitive style better than other personality tests? Jan 2, 2014 at 20:47
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    @BennySkogberg: For MBTI see Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®). MMPI is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Jan 2, 2014 at 21:05
  • If users know their MBTI type and can tell you, would you find it acceptable to just plug that in to your user research data instead of asking them the questions from the instrument again? In one of my ongoing personal projects, this is the case.
    – David
    Sep 21, 2015 at 17:24

The thing that springs to mind is the difference between types of e-commerce customers. You have your emotional customer who is easily influenced by images and colors and goes for looks. And you have your objective customer that reads the specifications and will compare similar products before committing to the purchase.

This can be seen as cognitive style right? But it's hard to know who is which as it's not something you can base on demography or other information gathered from web analytics. So the safest way is to assume you have all kinds of cognitive style represented in your target audience.

So I would say cognitive style is important for a persona. I've often added similar traits to personas, but never under the name cognitive style.

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    It could very well be that what influences a user is part of cognitive style. What we are influenced by, interests us and think is joyfull or even chipping makes us learn faster. So in a sense I think you are on the right track here. Thanks! Jan 2, 2014 at 13:09
  • @BennySkogberg Than I wouldn't really know how to describe the cognitive style in a persona, in what words. How would you describe it? Jan 2, 2014 at 13:12
  • That's part of what I want to know too! :-) Jan 2, 2014 at 13:31
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    I've reread the wiki page you referred to more intensely and what I defer from it is that there are only two types of cognitive styles, A or B. A either called convergent, adaptor or left brain side focussed and B called divergent, innovator or right brain side focussed. Left brain is logical and in my original answer this could be the people who read and compare a lot. Right brain is innovative, outside of the box and could be the people who 'go for looks'. It is interesting to know about your audience, but I think it's safe to assume you'll always have both in your target audience. Jan 2, 2014 at 13:41
  • There is also the Myers-Briggs personality type that you could use to classify cognitive styles. If you used that for your persona, you could simply represent it by an INFJ on ENTP or whatever. Though I agree with @Paul that it would be pretty difficult to restrict your audience to any one of these (though maybe they would be helpful for a specific persona) Jan 2, 2014 at 14:37

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