Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

Nathan A. Bowling (Committee Member), Herbert A. Colle (Committee Member), Helen Altman Klein (Committee Chair), David M. Lahuis (Committee Member)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In complex domains such as commerce, military operations, transportation, and humanitarian efforts, practitioners are sometimes overwhelmed by uncertain, contradictory, and dynamic information. They must obtain, organize, interpret, and use this information often under time pressure and high stakes during sensemaking. While sensemaking is a gateway to information management, sensemaking also depends on information management; the gathering and use of information provides the raw material for sensemaking. These processes work together to help people understand complex situations but are vulnerable to cultural as well as individual variation in cognition. This study investigated individual cognitive and personality differences that may affect information management and sensemaking. Analytic-Holistic (AH) thinking was expected to influence information use and sensemaking (Lin and Klein, 2008).

I investigated sensemaking using two scenarios in which dispositional and situational information was introduced sequentially. Each time new information, either dispositional or situational, was presented, participants identified problems and made decisions. I expected that analytic thinkers would make dispositional attribution and holistic thinkers would make situational attribution. Participants also selected and rated the relevance of the information presented. In addition, participants recalled information from an earlier scenario. I used moderated multiple regression analyses and correlation analyses to understand the relationships between individual differences, information use, and sensemaking.

Five important research findings emerged:

Analytic-Holistic thinking was related to initial sensemaking judgments particularly with limited information. This suggests that when faced with a sensemaking opportunity, people are not a blank slate. They bring with them cognitive patterns, past experiences, and beliefs that both set a framework for sensemaking, and determine how information is selected, judged, interpreted, and remembered. This can interfere in situations when a common understanding is needed to deal with complex problems.

Analytic and holistic thinkers used information differently during sensemaking. Holistic thinkers changed their sensemaking based on new information and were more influenced by the types of information presented. This relationship was weaker for analytic thinkers. The effect of AH thinking on information presented disappeared when new contradictory information was presented. While characteristic of a person was important in initial sensemaking, information content influenced sensemaking in the long run.

In contrast to AH thinking, two personality variables, the Need for Cognitive Closure and the Need for Cognition, were more related to information recall than to information use and sensemaking. While people high in need for cognition recalled more information, people high in need for cognitive closure recalled less. The complex influences of individual variation in cognition and personality on sensemaking suggest the need for additional research.

Attribution, a component of AH thinking, was related to information use. It explained situational information use while overall AH thinking did not. This suggests the usefulness of AH thinking components for specific information use.

The sensemaking context provided an opportunity to investigate information use and how people remember information. People who selected and rated dispositional information to be relevant remembered primarily this information. People who selected and rated situational information as more relevant recalled both situational and dispositional information. This suggests distinctive individual information management strategies. Some people considered the breadth of information during sensemaking while others focus on specific inform...

Page Count


Department or Program

Department of Psychology

Year Degree Awarded