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Individual Differences


Meaning and definition of individual differences:

Individual difference psychology examines how people are similar and how they differ in their thinking, feeling and behavior. For example, people can be classified according to intelligence and personality characteristics. People are complex, however, and there are multiple theories and evidence as to what are the prevailing aspects of psychological differences. The general structure for this course is to study intelligence for the first 5 weeks, then – personality for 10 weeks.

Introduction to Individual Differences:

Individual differences are a cornerstone. subject area in modern psychology. In many ways, it is the “classic” psychology that the general public refers to — it refers the psychology of the person — the psychological differences between people and their similarities. Plato stated more than 2000 years ago: “No two persons are born exactly alike; but each differs from the other in natural endowments, one being suited for one occupation and the other for another.” Individual difference psychology examines how people are similar and how they differ in their thinking, feeling and behavior. No two people are alike, yet no two people are unlike. So, in the study of individual differences we strive to understand ways in which people are psychologically similar and particularly what psychological characteristics vary between people. In the Western psychology approach to individual differences, it is generally assumed that:
The science of psychology studies people at three levels of focus captured by the well known quote: “Every man is in certain respects (a) like all other men, (b) like some other men, (c) like no other man” (Murray, H.A. & C. Kluckhohn, 1953). Individual differences psychology focuses on this second level of study. It is also sometimes called Differential Psychology because researchers in this area study the ways in which individual people differ in their behavior. This is distinguished from other aspects of psychology in that although psychology is ostensibly a study of individuals, modem psychologists often study groups or biological underpinnings of cognition. For example, in evaluating the effectiveness of a new therapy, the mean performance of the therapy in one group might be compared to the mean effectiveness of a placebo (or a well-known therapy) in a second, control group. In this context, differences between individuals in their reaction to the experimental and control manipulations are actually treated as errors rather than as interesting phenomena to study. This is because psychological research depends upon statistical controls that are only defined upon groups of people.
Individual difference psychologists usually express their interest in individuals while studying groups by seeking dimensions shared by all individuals but upon which individuals differ.


The study of individual differences is essential because important variation between individuals can be masked by averaging. For example, a researcher is interested in resting metabolic rate in humans. The researcher gathers a sample of men, women, and children, measures their metabolic rate and gets a single average. The researcher then tells the whole population that they should be eating 1,900 calories a day. What’s wrong with this study? The researcher has neglected individual differences in activity level, body size, sex, age, and other factors that influence metabolic rate. The average reported based on the results is masking multiple dimensions that should be used to determine daily caloric intake. Therefore, his or her conclusions are misleading if not outright false. This is an extreme example to make a point, but it illustrates the problems that can arise by averaging across groups. Areas of study Individual differences research typically includes personality, motivation, intelligence, ability, and IQ, interests, values, self-concept, self-efficacy, and self-esteem (to name just a few). There are few remaining “differential psychology” programs in the United States, although research in this area is very active. Current researchers are found in a variety of applied and experimental programs, including educational psychology, industrial psychology, personality psychology and social psychology programs.
Psychology often makes generalizations about people. Depending upon your point of view this can be seen as a great strength of psychology or a weakness or probably both. It is important that we recognize that there are as many differences between people as there are similarities There has been a tendency in psychology to ignore the experiences of people from different cultures. Two of the studies in this section attempt to explore the experiences of Black people within the Western world. The first study by Gould (1982) is a review of the use of IQ testing. Gould demonstrates how psychological arguments have been used to support racist arguments of White superiority.
The study by Hraba and Grant (1970) investigates the identity of American Black children. Their study demonstrates that there has been a change in consciousness of Black children from 20 years previously. A further issue that is often included in the section of individual differences is what psychologists refer to as abnormality. However the concept of abnormality is also a highly controversial issue. The judgment that somebody is abnormal is relative and is based on factors such as culture, class, religion, sexuality and so on. The study by Rosenhan (1973) challenges the ability of professionals to classify abnormality. The study by Thigpen and Cleckley (1954) also illustrates the controversy of diagnosing multiple personality.

Candidates should:
• be able to describe and evaluate the individual differences approach in psychology;
• demonstrate a knowledge of some cultural variations in behavior and experience;
• be able to evaluate the psychometric approach;
• consider the issues in the construction and application of psychometric tests;
• consider the ethnocentric nature of Western psychology;
• understand the difficulties involved in defining abnormality and normality;
• consider the practical, theoretical and ethical consequences of applying definitions of abnormality: • understand that explanations of mental disturbance have arisen from more than one perspective;
• be able to evaluate attempts to gather empirical evidence on cases of mental and behavioral disturbances;
• consider the implications of research in the psychology of individual differences.


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