Individual Differences

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Individual Differences

Differential is a branch of psychology concerned with how and why individuals’ psychological traits differ. Increasingly, research has focused on the development of these traits and their importance to life outcomes, values, psychopathology, and socially relevant behaviours. The 16 Psychology 2 Differential mini-lectures follow from and build on those in Psychology 1. They focus on the two most widely studied forms of individual differences, cognitive abilities and personality traits. But first they introduce the area overall, cover how Differential Psychology differs from other areas, how individual differences in general are measured, how they tend to be studied, how their development is tracked, and how genes and environment transact in bringing them about. A final lecture offers some perspective on psychopathology. Each has 5 self-assessment questions intended to get you engaging with the material rather than simply regurgitating specific facts and an activity such as a reading, something specific to think about and evaluate, or an exercise, and 6 have topics to discuss with other students and the lecturer on Discussion Boards. Prof. Wendy Johnson will be online with the Discussion Boards every Wednesday throughout the semester at 11 UK time to discuss with any students online then and to answer questions left by others.

The Mini-Lectures


Introduction – The lecturer and unit outline

Realm of Differential Psychology – What is studied and how it differs from other areas

Variance – Definition, relevance, and estimation

Measurement – What’s involved in doing it well

Anatomy of a Differential Study – An example study and what makes it such a good one

Development and Change – Definitions, commonly observed patterns

Developmental Research Designs – Typical approaches, their relative advantages and disadvantages

Introduction to Genetics – Some history and basic mechanisms

Genetic Influences on Behaviour – Prevalence, measurement, environmental transactions

What is Intelligence? – Definitions and their limitations

How is Intelligence Measured? – Examples of typical assessments and their limitations

Intelligence Tests in Action – Despite limitations, their relevance in modern life

What is Personality? – Definitions and their limitations

How is Personality Measured? – Examples of typical assessments, developmental history, limitations

Personality Scores in Action – Despite limitations, their relevance in modern life

A Few Notes on Psychopathology – What might it be that goes ‘wrong’?

The lectures are accompanied by a tutorial reading and a lab on literature database search and summarizing (addressed in the lecture that takes place before the Individual Differences lectures).

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this unit, students should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how Differential Psychology differs in focus from other areas and why this is important, some of the key questions that must be wrestled with in defining, operationalising, and measuring psychological constructs on which individuals differ, why considering development is important in doing this, important features of good Differential studies and practical considerations in designing them, and the relevance of yet difficulties involved in understanding how genes and environments transact to make us the unique individuals we are. As well, students should be able to relate all this to the topics of intelligence and personality and consider what may go ‘wrong’ in cases of psychopatholgy.