Leveling and Sharpening

Leveling and sharpening is a cognitive style that represents the way in which an individual uses previous memories when attempting to assimilate new information with prior knowledge. This cognitive style was described in the mid-1950s and was studied by Philip Holzman and George Klein, among others. Prior to the 1990s, the Squares Test, which was developed by the Menninger Foundation, was one of the methods of identifying levelers and sharpeners.

People who are levelers tend to select many memories from the past in an attempt to clarify and categorize newly acquired information. Sharpeners, on the other hand, seem to select fewer memories when processing new knowledge. In his 1997 book Cognitive Styles and Classroom Learning, Harry Morgan contended that, overall,sharpeners tend to have more accurate identifications of new knowledge and can relate recently acquired material to old material with more specificity. This may be due to an ability to selectively sort and store pieces of memories and to carefully differentiate associations between past experiences. By contrast, levelers inaccurately blend features of mem ories together and then oversimplify the new material or miscategorize it altogether. They can miss distinguishing features among similar, yet not identical, objects. This could result in definitions of later knowledge that are ambiguous.

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