Cognitive fit theory

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Cognitive fit theory



Alternate name(s)


Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Problem solution, problem solving performance, task performance

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Problem representation, problem solving task

Concise description of theory

Cognitive fit theory was developed by Iris Vessey (1991). The theory proposes that the correspondence between task and information presentation format leads to superior task performance for individual users. In several studies, cognitive fit theory has provided an explanation for performance differences among users across different presentation formats such as tables, graphs, and schematic faces (e.g., Vessey, 1991, 1994; Vessey & Galletta, 1991; Umanath & Vessey, 1994). The theory has also been extended into the geographic information systems domain, where it has been used to explain performance differences among users of map and table-based geographic information systems on adjacency, proximity, and containment tasks (Dennis and Carte,1998; Smelcer and Carmel, 1997).

According to Vessey (1991) "matching representation to tasks leads to the use of similar . . problem-solving processes, and hence the formulation of a consistent mental representation. There will be no need to transform the mental representation . . . to extract information from the problem representation and to solve the problem. Hence, problem solving with cognitive fit leads to effective and efficient problem-solving performance."

Sources: Vessey, Iris (1991). Cognitive Fit: A Theory-Based Analysis of the Graphs Versus Tables Literature. Decision Sciences 22,(2), 219-240. and, Dunn, Cheryl, Grabski, Severin. (2001). An investigation of localization as an element of cognitive fit in accounting model representations. Decision Sciences, 32(1), 55-94.

Diagram/schematic of theory


Source: Shaft, Teresa M. and Iris Vessey, (2006) "The Role of Cognitive Fit in the Relationship between Software Comprehension and Modification", MIS Quarterly, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp. 29-55.

Originating author(s)

Iris Vessey

Seminal articles

Vessey, Iris (1991). Cognitive Fit: A Theory-Based Analysis of the Graphs Versus Tables Literature. Decision Sciences 22,(2), 219-240.

Vessey, Iris, Galletta, Dennis (1991). Cognitive Fit: An Empirical Study of Information Acquisition. Information Systems Research, 2(1), 63-84.

Originating area

Information systems

Level of analysis


IS articles that use the theory

Agarwal, R., A. P. Sinha, and M. R. Tanniru (1996) “Cognitive Fit in Requirements Modeling: A Study of Object and Process Methodologies” Journal of Management Information Systems, 13(2), 137–162.

Beckman, P.A. Concordance between task and interface rotational and translational control improves ground vehicle performance. Human Factors, 44, 4 (2002), 644-653.

Borthick , A.F.; Bowen, P.L.; Jones, D.R.; Tse, M.H.K. The Effects of Information Request Ambiguity and Construct Incongruence on Query Development. Decision Support Systems, 32, 1 (2001), 3-25.

Chan, S.Y. The Use of Graphs as Decision Aids in Relation to Information Overload and Managerial Decision Quality. Journal of Information Science, 27, 6 (2001), 417-425.

Crossland, Martin D., Herschel, Richard T., Perkins, William C., Scudder, Joseph N. (2000). The impact of task and cognitive style on decision-making effectiveness using a geographic information system. Journal of End User Computing, 12(1), 14-23.

De, Prabuddha, Sinha, Atish P., Vessey, Iris (2001). An empirical investigation of factors influencing object-oriented database querying. Information Technology and Management, 2(1), 71.

Dennis, Alan R., Carte, Traci A. (1998). Using geographical information systems for decision making: Extending cognitive fit theory to map-based presentations. Information Systems Research. 9(2), 194-203.

Dilla, William N., Steinbart, Paul John (2005). Using Information Display Characteristics to Provide Decision Guidance in a Choice Task under Conditions of Strict Uncertainty. Journal of Information Systems, 19 (2), 29-55.

Dull, Richard B.; Tegarden, David P. (1999). A Comparison of Three Visual Representations of Complex Multidimensional Accounting Information. Journal of Information Systems, 13(2), 117-131.

Dunn, Cheryl, Grabski, Severin (2001). An investigation of localization as an element of cognitive fit in accounting model representations. Decision Sciences, 32(1), 55-94.

Fox, Terry L., Spence, J. Wayne (2005). The Effect of Decision Style on the Use of a Project Management Tool: An Empirical Laboratory Study. Database for Advances in Information Systems, 36(2), 28-42.

Frownfelter-Lohrke, Cynthia (1998). The Effects of Differing Information Presentations of General Purpose Financial Statements on Users' Decisions. Journal of Information Systems, 12(2), 99-107.

Hayden, M.K., Olfman, L., Gray, P., and Ahituv, N. (1997) “An Experimental Investigation of Visual Enhancements for Programming Environments,” Journal of Information Systems, Fall 1997, pp. 19-26.

Hong, Weiyin , Thong, James Y.L. and Tam, Kar Yan (2005). The Effects of Information Format and Shopping Task on Consumers' Online Shopping Behavior: A Cognitive Fit Perspective. Journal of Management Information Systems, 21(3), 149-184.

Hubona, G.S., Everett, S., Marsh, E., Wauchope, K. (1998) “Mental Representations of Spatial Language,” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 48, 705.

Hungerford, Bruce C., Eierman,Michael A. (2005). The Communication Effectiveness of System Models Using the UML versus Structured Techniques: A Field Experiment. Mid - American Journal of Business, 20( 2)35-43.

Kamis, Arnold, Koufaris, Marios, and Stern, Tziporah (2008), Using an Attribute-Based DSS for User-Customized Products Online: An Experimental Investigation. MIS Quarterly, 32(1): 159-177.

Khatri, V., Vessey, I., Ramesh, V., Clay, P. and S-J Park (2006), “Understanding Conceptual Schemas: Exploring the Role of Application and IS Domain Knowledge,” Information Systems Research, 17(1), 81-99.

Khatri, V., Vessey, I., Ram, S., and V. Ramesh (2006), “Cognitive Fit between Conceptual Models and Internal Problem Representations: The Case of Geospatio-Temporal Conceptual Schema Comprehension,” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 49(2), 109-127.

Mahoney, L.S.; Roush, P.B.; and Bandy, D. An Investigation of the Effects of Decisional Guidance and Cognitive Ability on Decision-Making Involving Uncertainty Data. Information and Organization, 13 (2003), 85-110.

Mennecke, Brian E., Crossland, Martin D., Killingsworth, Brenda L. (2000). Is a map more than a picture? The role of SDSS technology, subject characteristics, and problem complexity on map reading and problem solving. MIS Quarterly, 24(4), 601-629.

Ramarapu,Narender K., Frolick, Mark N., Wilkes, Ronald B., Wetherbe, James C. (1997). The emergence of hypertext and problem solving: An experimental investigation of accessing and using information from linear versus nonlinear systems. Decision Sciences, 28(4), 825-849.

Shaft, Teresa M. and Iris Vessey, (2006) "The Role of Cognitive Fit in the Relationship between Software Comprehension and Modification", MIS Quarterly, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp. 29-55.

Smelcer, J., & Carmel, E. (1997). The effectiveness of different representations for managerial problem solving: Comparing maps and tables. Decision Sciences, 28(2), 391-420.

Speier, Cheri, Morris, Michael G. (2003). The influence of query interface design on decision-making performance. MIS Quarterly, 27(3), 397.

Tabatabaei, Manouchehr (2002). An experimental analysis of decision channeling by restrictive information display. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making,15( 5), 419-432.

Tuttle, Brad M.; Kershaw, Russell (1998). Information Presentation and Judgment Strategy from a Cognitive Fit Perspective. Journal of Information Systems, 12(1), 1-17.

Umanath, Narayan S., Vessey, Iris (1994). Multi-attribute Data Presentation and Human Judgment: A Cognitive Fit Perspective. Decision Sciences, 25(5/6), 795-824.

Vessey, Iris, Glass, Robert L. (1994). Applications-based methodologies. Information Systems Management, 11(4), 53-57.

Vessey, I. The theory of cognitive fit: One aspect of a general theory of problem solving? in P. Zhang and D. Galletta (eds.), Human-computer interaction and management information systems: Foundations, Advances in Management Information Systems Series, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2006.

Wheeler, Patrick R., Jones, Donald R. (2003). The effects of exclusive user choice of decision aid features on decision making. Journal of Information Systems,17(1), 63-83.

Wilson, E.V. and Addo, T.B.A. An Investigation of the Relative Presentation Efficiency of Computer-Displayed Graphs. Information and Management, 26, 2 (1994), 105-115.

Links from this theory to other theories

Cognitive dissonance theory

External links


Original Contributor(s)

Mike Wade and Sally Tomasevic

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