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Individual Differences is an area of study in psychology that attempts to systematically investigate the variations in behaviour between individuals, seeking explanatory coherence in terms of theory based upon biological, cognitive, and social factors. Such a definition is extremely broad, but is accurate to the extent that it represents the entire spectrum of human behaviour that is available for investigation Historically, individual difference researchers have been concerned mostly with the constructs of personality and intelligence, their structure, functional mechanisms, and interactions with behaviour. In addition, psychometrics and measurement methodology run hand-in-hand with research in this area. As Brian Haig (from Canterbury University, NZ) has proposed, the identification of psychological phenomena requires measurement of the characteristics and attributes of such phenomena, both for identification purposes and the generation of statements concerning causality.

Individual Differences is a branch of psychology that studies how and why individuals differ. Its main sub-branches are the study of cognitive abilities, motivation, personality, and temperament (including both mood and emotion).

The focus of investigation in individual differences research is on the variables that form the basis for manifest differences in behavior and performance among individuals and between groups. For example, it is commonly observed that individuals differ in personality, motivation, and intellectual ability

Despite the fact that we humans have certain sameness in our behavior, we also show important individual differences. We all acquire and use language. This is a sameness that interests the evolutionary psychologist. But it is also clear that there are marked individual differences in the way we use language. Shakespeare and Goethe displaced eloquence with language that most of us lack. Evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics often treat the same phenotypes but approach them from different directions. Take intellect and cognition. Evolutionary psychologists like John Tooby and Leda Cosmides research cognitive modules such as the ability for us humans to detect cheaters. Behavioral geneticists like Thomas Bouchard ask why some people are smarter than others are. Phobias are another area of interest to both disciplines. Evolutionary psychologists wonder why we easily develop phobias of snakes but hardly ever acquire phobias of electrical outlets. Behavioral geneticists ask why Wilbur developed a phobia of heights while his brother, Waldo, never acquired that fear.

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Psychological assessment is broadly defined as the gathering and integration of scientifically acquired data for the purpose of making a psychological evaluation, accomplished through the use of tools such as tests, interviews, case studies, behavioral observation, and specially designed apparatuses and measurement procedures.

The two disciplines of scientific psychology are the experimental, concerned with general laws, and the correlational, concerned with individual differences. As Cronbach pointed out in a celebrated address to the American Psychological Association in 157, both are indispensable to a proper understanding of human beings and their behavior. Indeed, one cannot properly exist without the other. Individual differences interact in almost every case with experimental and situational paradigms to produce results differing profoundly for individuals of different capacities, different personalities, different emotions, and different motivations.

Personality psychology addresses the questions of shared human nature, dimensions of individual differences and unique patterns of individuals. Research in IDs ranges from analyses of genetic codes to the study of sexual, social, ethnic, and cultural differences and includes research on cognitive abilities, interpersonal styles, and emotional reactivity. Methods range from laboratory experiments to longitudinal field studies and include data reduction techniques such as Factor Analysis and Principal Components Analysis, as well as Structural Modeling and Multi-Level Modeling procedures. Measurement issues of most importance are those of reliability and stability of individual differences.

Taxonomies of individual differences

Taxonomic work has focused on categorizing the infinite ways in which individuals differ in terms of a limited number of latent or unobservable constructs. This is a multi-step, cyclical process of intuition, observation, deduction, induction, and verification that has gradually converged on a consensual descriptive organization of broad classes of variables as well as on methods for analyzing them. Most of the measurement and taxonomic techniques used throughout the field have been developed in response to the demand for selection for schooling, training, and business applications.

Personality & ability

Although to some the term personality refers to all aspects of a persons individuality, typical usage divides the field into studies of ability and personality. Tests of ability are viewed as maximal performance measures. Ability is construed as the best one can do on a particular measure in a limited time (speed test) or with unlimited time (power test). Personality measures are estimates of average performance and typically include reports of preferences and estimates of what one normally does and how one perceives oneself and is perceived by others.

The same procedures used to clarify the structure of cognitive abilities have been applied to the question of identifying the domains of personality.

Other researchers have advocated a lexical approach to the taxonomic problem, following the basic assumption that words in the natural language describe all-important individual differences. This shifts the taxonomic question from how are individuals similar and different from each other to how are the words used to describe individuals (e.g., lively, talkative, nervous, anxious) similar and different from each other.

Dimensional analyses of tests developed based on lexical, rational, or theoretical bases suggest that a limited number (between three and seven) of higher order trait domains adequately organize the thousands of words that describe individual differences and the logically infinite way that these words can be combined into self or peer report items.

A psychological test is a standardized instrument designed to measure objectively in one or more aspects of a total personality by means of samples of verbal or nonverbal responses, or by means of other behaviors. The key words are standardized, objectively& samples.


The purpose of standardizing a test is to give it objectivity, i.e. to devise an instrument that will be free from personal judgments regarding ability, skill, knowledge, trait or potentiality to be measured. A key is provided with the test is used to score the responses; or in case of Stanford-Binet scales, the scoring criteria are specified and illustrated so that the subjective judgments of individual examiners do not enter or are reduced to a minimum. The most objective kind of scoring is that of group test, graded by hand with the stencil or an electronic machine. However, while highly objective, none of these methods are error free.

Representative population sample

Test of specific aptitude are designed for specified population. Rating scale, personality inventories, projective tests are intended for use with a specified segment of total population. They may be designed for selected group, for particular occupations, for given educational levels, for the diagnosis of clinical cases or even non-clinical population as well. In any event, whatever the traits to be measured, whatever age group specified, the test must be standardized on group that is a representative sample of the total population for which it is intended.

The nature & comprehensiveness of the test undertaken will determine what factors are important in making a population sampling. The samples should yield unbiased data on the population it purports to represent, and the sample should be large enough to provide statistically valid results of the trait or functions being measured by the test. This means, that the test designer must decide at the outset with which group, with what segment of the population, his instrument should be used. Then he must standardized the test on the population sample that is stratified according to relevant factors; and within each stratum the selection of cases should be adequate in number and of correct proportion in the total.

Sampling of traits & functions

Any given test measures a limited aspect of the person being examined. It is essential that the test builder define the aspects he proposes to measure. After this he must develop a series of test items that will best sample the traits or functions with which his test is concerned. Two types of sampling are involved in constructing a psychological test.viz. Gross variable (the broad, comprehensive trait or function) must be selected. Operational levels (i.e. the actual items)

Another approach to analysis of test content is known as construct validity This term means that a test measures what it claims to measure if the mental processes (activities) required by the test items sample as well as the concept, or constructs that the test is designed to measure.

The next task a difficult one is the preparation & experimental selection of numerous individual items to give substances to each of these categories.

Specific aptitudes

A specific aptitude test indicates the probable degree of successful learning & achievement in particular &limited type of activity. A test intended to estimate a person’s capacity in any specific area must include parts (sub tests) and items, sufficient in number & extensive enough in scope & level of difficulty to provide an adequate sampling upon which a prediction of subsequent learning & achievement may be based.e.g.Wing standardized test of musical intelligence include 7 aspects chord analysis, pitch range, memory, rhythmic accent, harmony, intensity& phrasing.

Personality inventories

There are inventories, answered by the individual himself, intend to evaluate degrees of introversion-extroversion, neurotic tendencies, security-insecurity & others. In each instance, the author of the test must define the manifestations or symptoms of the trait. e.g. Bernreuter personality inventory is designed to evaluate degrees of 6 traits neurotictendency, self-sufficiency, introversion-extroversion, dominence�submission, confidence in one’s self & sociability.

Projective tests

The most famous is the Rorschach test .the other is Murray Thematic Apperception Test. This test rest upon analyses of human needs and of the environmental forces (called press) affecting human behaviour. Murray lists 6 needs & 16 environmental forces to be elicited by the series of ambiguous pictures. These needs included achievement, dominance, intragression and the press included affiliation, dominance, rejection.

Personality& projective tests are the representations of actual behaviors; but are as close to actual behavior and experience as can be approached without observing a person in the behavioral situations themselves.

To understand individual differences, it is important to understand several quantitative principles

The first important concept is that of a distribution. A distribution is a mathematical function that gives the frequency of various trait values. Typically, the trait value is plotted on the horizontal axis while the frequency of that trait value is on the vertical axis. Bell shaped curve of a normal distribution, the most important distribution.. Phenotypic scores in the middle of the distribution are the most frequent. As one moves away from the middle in either direction, the frequencies of the phenotypes become smaller and smaller. Intelligence, most personality traits�indeed, most behavioral phenotypes�show a frequency distribution similar to the normal.

The mean of a distribution is the arithmetic average. It is computed by adding all the scores together and dividing by the number of observations. The mean is a measure of central tendency or location and answers the question, “Around which number do the scores tend to cluster?”

The variance of a distribution is a measure of individual differences around the mean. It is a measure of the degree to which the scores are dispersed away from the mean. A variance can range from 0 to a large positive number. A variance of 0 signifies that there is no dispersion around the mean�every score is the same and every score equals the mean.

For example, the number of eyes for normal individuals in the human species has a variance of 0. We all have two eyes; it is not the case that some humans have one eye, others have two, and yet others have three. The larger the variance, the more the scores are scattered around the mean.The scores for the solid distribution are spread out more about the mean than they are for the blue distribution. Hence, there are differences in behavior.

Distribution in this sense is technically called a probability density function in mathematical statistics.

A closely related statistic to the variance is the standard deviation.Mathematically, the standard deviation is the square root of the variance, so it too must range from 0 to a large positive number. The standard deviation has the same interpretation as the variance. It is a measure of the spread of scores around the mean, and the larger the standard deviation, the greater the individual differences.An important feature of variance is that it can be partitioned.

Variance in the phenotype can be partitioned into a portion due to genetic variance and another portion due to environmental variance. This partitioning helps geneticists to answer two important questions�to what extent are observable individual differences due to individual differences in genotype and to what extent are observable individual differences due to individual differences in the environment?

Correlation coefficients are the most common statistic used to quantify the similarity of relatives for a continuous trait. A correlation coefficient is a measure of the extent to which scores on one variable can predict scores on a second variable. Mathematically, a correlation coefficient can range from -1.0 to 1.0. There are two important attributes of a correlation coefficient.

The first is the sign of the correlation. A positive sign (i.e., a correlation between 0 and 1.0) denotes a direct relationship. This assumes that the two distributions are on the same measurement scale. Many measurement scales for behavioral traits (e.g., IQ, personality scales, etc.) are arbitrary, so the statement in the text does not apply to them. high scores on the first variable predict high scores on the second variable, and conversely low scores on the second variable predict low scores on the second variable.

E.g. The correlation between height and weight is positive.

Negative sign (i.e., a correlation coefficient less than 0) denotes an inverse relationship.In this case, high scores on one variable predict low scores on the second variable, and conversely low scores on the first variable predict high scores on the second variable. The correlation between the amount of time spent partying and grades is negative. Students who spend a very large amount of time partying tend to get lower than average grades while students who spend little time at parties tend to receive higher grades

The second important attribute of the correlation is the square of the correlation

coefficient. Because a correlation can range between -1.0 and 1.0, the square of the correlation must range between 0 and 1.0. The square of the correlation is a measure of the amount of predictability between the two variables. Statistically speaking, the correlation squared gives the proportion of variance in one variable that is predicable from the other variable. Because variance is a measure of individual differences, another way of stating the previous statement is that the correlation squared is a measure of the extent to which individual differences in one variable are predictable from individual differences in the second variable. If the correlation squared is 0, then there is no predictability the two variables are not related to each other. If the squared correlation is 1.0, then we can perfectly predict scores on one variable by knowing scores on the second variable.

The correlation is 0, and then the dots look as if a circle could enclose them. As the correlation increases, then the dots take on an elliptical appearance. As the correlation gets larger and larger, the dots become more and more elliptical. When the correlation is at its maximum of 1.0, then the dots all fall on a straight line.

E.g. Correlations very close to 0 are sometimes encountered in behavioral genetic research for distant relatives. Correlations of .5 are typical of those reported for first-degree relatives (parent-offspring and sibs) for personality traits. . Correlations near .50 are seldom encountered for first-degree relatives but are not unusual for identical twins. Correlations of .75 and above are found only for identical twins and for relatives on some traits that are strongly influence by the family environment, e.g., religious preference

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