Cognitive Complexity
as a Personality Dimension

Complexity refers to the extent to which an individual or organization differentiates and integrates an event. Differentiation is the number of distinctions or separate elements (i.e., factors, variables) into which an event is analyzed. Integration refers to the connections or relationships among these elements.

Persons who are high in cognitive complexity are able to analyze (i.e., differentiate) a situation into many constituent elements, and then explore connections and potential relationships among the elements; they are multidimensional in their thinking. Complexity theory assumes that the more an event can be differentiated and the parts considered in novel relationships, the more refined the response and successful the solution. While less complex people can be taught a complex set of detailed distinctions for a specific context, high complexity people are very flexible in creating new distinctions in new situations.

Research on complexity shows some of the following conclusions of relevance to managers:

Greater complexity may not be helpful or useful under certain conditions:

Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W. (1986). Complexity, managers, and organizations. New York: Academic Press