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Measuring Individual Differences

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Measuring Individual Differences

Individual differences influence our attitudes, behaviours, opinions, thought processes, preferences, abilities, etc. and these differences stem from factors like our culture, personality, gender and development. Because they cause so much variation from person to person, they need to be considered when conducting psychological research. They can have an effect on the results, and therefore, the conclusions which are drawn from these results and generalised to large groups of people.

  • First, we will delve into the Individual Differences Theory
  • Then, we will cover the measurement of individual differences in cognitive abilities and individual differences in learning, referencing the consequences of individual differences
  • We will briefly discuss the methods of assessing individual differences
  • Finally, we will cover two of the main studies concerning measuring individual differences, Gould (1982) and Hancock et al. (2011), a classic and contemporary study

Individual differences theory: Consequences of individual differences

Individual differences concern the traits within humans that affect human behaviours.

Individual differences distinguish one person from another, and as we mentioned above, these differences can include attitudes, opinions, and overall preferences for different areas of life.

There are consequences of individual differences; different opinions may separate and divide people. The individual differences theory explores and explains various aspects of human behaviours in psychology by examining these traits. To do this, psychologists need to measure the various aspects of individual differences accurately.

Cultural differences

Our culture shapes our lives to a great extent. It influences many things about us, from behaviours to thought patterns. It consists of normal or acceptable behaviour in that particular culture. While there are many different cultures, they can generally be divided into two main groups, individualistic cultures (value the individual) and collectivist cultures (value the group).

Gender differences

Gender describes the concepts of masculinity and femininity and how they apply to individuals within the context of culture. It can influence many aspects of a person's life, including behaviour, relationships, and physical and psychological health.

Gender stereotypes deem different things as appropriate or inappropriate.

Measuring Individual Differences, Gender Differences, StudySmarterGender weight differences, freepik.com/pch.vector

Developmental differences

Whichever way we look at development, either nature, nurture or both (interactionist approach), it is clear that every individual is vastly different. Since everyone has different genes and environments whilst they're growing up, each individual will have different abilities, attitudes, behaviours, and everything else mentioned.

Developmental psychology studies the changes we go through from birth to old age. These changes regard our attitudes, behaviours, brain functions, physical growth, language acquisition, motor skills, etc.

Personality differences

Our personalities are one of the most significant factors that set us apart. Whilst culture and gender do differentiate us, we share those with a large number of people that are part of the same group. It is different for everyone and makes us all unique, and it influences how people interact with each other and their surroundings in different situations.

Personality is an individual's behaviour, thinking, feeling and psychological characteristics.

Different theories about personality exist, including trait theory, the psychodynamic theory, the social cognitive perspective, the humanistic approach, and the big 5 personality traits (O.C.E.A.N - openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism).

Measuring Individual Differences, Development, StudySmarterBig 5 personality types, commons.wikimedia.org

Measurement of Individual Differences in Cognitive Abilities

Overall, multiple methods can measure individual differences in cognitive abilities. These include:

  • Problem-solving tasks
  • Psychometric tests
  • Tests assessing maths, language, and memory skills
  • Repeated testings (when using the above methods)

Methods of assessing individual differences

There are multiple key areas where individual differences are particularly prominent in people worldwide, which can be examined on a wider scale using assessment methods developed by influential psychologists. These areas of interest include:

  • Cultural differences
  • Gender differences
  • Personality differences
  • Developmental differences

Individual Differences Theory: The key studies

There are two key studies you need to know for your exams, and we have explanations discussing them in more depth. Consider the following overviews of Gould (1982) and Hancock et al. (2011).

Classic Study - Intelligence

Everyone has different levels of intelligence from each other, and each person also has different levels of the different types of intelligence, e.g. IQ (Intelligence quotient), emotional intelligence, etc. Gould (1982) carried out a famous study measuring individual differences in intelligence, in which he reviewed and critiqued the largest intelligence test carried out by Yerkes (1917), testing 1.75 million army recruits, in an attempt to measure intelligence in a scientific way.

Gould's aim was to reveal the problems in measuring intelligence that Yerkes had in his research. Yerkes developed three main intelligence tests which measured native intelligence, that he claimed were not affected by culture or education level:

  1. Alpha test, which had eight parts, was for literate recruits and is similar to today's IQ tests.

  2. Army Beta test, a pictorial test for illiterate people who failed the alpha test.

  3. Individual Examinations (spoken) test, an oral test for those who failed the beta test too.

Yerkes found different average mental ages for people from different countries: white Americans (13.04), then Russian immigrants (11.34), Italian immigrants (11.01), Polish immigrants (10.74), then Black Americans (10.41). The results determined which role the recruits got. Yerkes' study resulted in serious consequences for immigrants to America, e.g. Jews who were fleeing from Hitler.

Gould (1982) pointed out several issues with Yerkes' intelligence research, which lowered its validity:

  • That it was culturally biased and disadvantaged immigrants, so it didn't measure native intelligence, e.g. some questions in the alpha test included testing knowledge about American culture rather than literate ability.

  • The beta test was pictorial, but recruits would still need to know how to write/draw numbers.

  • Those doing the beta and alpha tests didn't get as much time as was specified, so they missed questions.

  • Due to too many recruits lining up for the beta test, a lot got tested with the alpha test, which meant their scores were very low.

  • Also, many who failed the beta test weren't called back for the individual test.

These issues show that the consequences followed relied on incorrect conclusions since immigrants had a disadvantage due to the way the tests were made and the various administration issues. Therefore, such tests and research results should be taken with a grain of salt.

The question, therefore, arises about whether or not we can accurately measure intelligence?

The answer to this based on the conclusions of Gould's study would be that it has been found that IQ tests are not developed to measure innate intelligence, which is what we want to measure when it comes to intelligence, but rather they reflect practices of that specific culture, which reduces the tests' accuracy and questions their ability to correctly measure intelligence.

Measuring Individual Differences, Development, StudySmarterIntelligence, flaticon.com

Contemporary study - Language of psychopaths

Psychopathic traits are an individual difference because not everyone is a psychopath. Those classed as psychopaths are different from the rest of the population.

A psychopath is a person with an antisocial personality disorder with a chronic, pervasive disposition to violate and disregard other people's rights.

Therefore, to measure this individual difference, Hancock et al. (2011) decided to analyse the language of psychopaths to see:

  • Whether they use different linguistic features that reflect their worldview

  • Whether their language indicates differences in which needs they emphasise from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (basic, physiological or higher needs).

  • Whether their language reflects their lack of emotion.

They had a sample of 52 murderers who'd admitted their crime, 14 classed as psychopaths and 38 not. They were interviewed about their crimes in detail, and then researchers who didn't know their psychopath status analysed their answers.

They found that psychopaths used more words like 'since' or 'because' (subordinating conjunctions) because they describe their murders in a cause and effect way since they see their murders as goal-oriented and logical. Also, psychopaths used two times as many words describing their physiological needs as non-psychopaths, who talked more about higher needs, e.g. religion, family, etc.

Psychopaths described their murders using more past tense verbs, which showed their distance from the crime. They also used language that wasn't fluent ('uh'/'um'), indicating that it was difficult for them to describe such an emotional event to someone. The higher their psychopath score, the less emotional and positive their language was.

These findings show how psychopaths view the world differently and think in such a different, rational, and primitive way. Psychopaths use language and word patterns that lack fluency, are psychologically distant and are more rational than emotive.

Comparison of Gould (1982) and Hancock et al. (2011)

There are several aspects that these two individual differences studies have been compared on. Overall, Gould (1982) is a review of a classic study (Yerkes, 1917), which analysed the issues with conducting mass intelligence tests due to the levels of individual differences within populations. This relates both to culture and social upbringing.

Hancock et al. (2011) examined individual differences in a smaller sample size, focusing more so on the individual differences specifically present within 'psychopaths' and providing multiple avenues of potential areas of research that can be used to identify individual differences, such as language and emotional contexts.

Individual diversity

Hancock et al showed that it is possible to measure behaviour in order to establish which factors cause individual differences. This contemporary research is different from Gould's review of general intelligence as more specific measures of abnormal behaviour are taken.

Social diversity

Gould's research was a review of a large study with a huge sample size, so it tells us about intelligence of the general population and social diversity. Since Hancock et al only focused on 52 men who were in prison for murder, his research cannot really tell us much about the general population, so has little social diversity.

However, it can tell us a good amount about the specific group of individuals who are likely to have a similar background (based on offending research). This means Hancock et al.'s research was able to explain an important problem, which can potentially help in reducing offending in society, in the future.

Cultural diversity

Gould's study included participants from 6 different ethnicities, so had good cultural diversity. However, Hancock et al.'s study focused on Canadian prisoners, so there is little cultural diversity. This research could be improved by conducting it in different cultures with different languages.

Measuring Individual Differences - Key takeaways

  • Many things about us make us different from each other as humans.
  • Culture is a set of norms specific to a nation or ethnicity about what are acceptable behaviours, attitudes, ways of thinking, dressing, etc.
  • Many different measurement methods measure individual differences, e.g., controlled lab experiments, observations, therapies, interviews, questionnaires, surveys, scales, dream analysis, thematic apperception tests, trait personality tests, and inventories.

  • Research by Gould (1982) and Hancock et al. (2011) provide examples of how individual differences are studied and measured.

  • Gould (1982) is an example of a classic review of a study, and Hancock et al. (2011) is a contemporary study.

Frequently Asked Questions about Measuring Individual Differences

The four main individual differences in psychology are:

  1. Culture
  2. Gender
  3. Personality
  4. Development

Yes, the four main individual differences (culture, gender, personality, development) can be identified by several different measures:


  • Controlled lab experiments

  • Observations

  • Therapies

  • Interviews

  • Questionnaires

  • Surveys

  • Scales

  • Dream analysis

  • Thematic apperception test

  • Trait personality tests and inventories.

Individual differences influence our behaviours, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and ways of thinking. These need to be considered when conducting psychological research since they can affect the results and, therefore, the conclusions drawn from these results and how they can be generalised to large groups of people. 

IQ tests and other intelligence tests can be used to find out an individual's intelligence score.

Individual differences in attachment are measured using controlled lab experiments, observations, interviews, questionnaires, etc.

Final Measuring Individual Differences Quiz

Question

Who created the first intelligence test?

Show answer

Answer

 In 1905, the first intelligence test was created by French psychologist Alfred Binet, assisted by Theodore Simon.

Show question

Question

What was the aim of Gould’s study?

Show answer

Answer

The aim of Gould's study was to reveal the problems with measuring intelligence, such as how Yerkes had attempted to do so in his large testing.

Show question

Question

Was Gould's study an experiment or review?

Show answer

Answer

An experiment

Show question

Question

How many army recruits did Yerkes give intelligence tests to?

Show answer

Answer

1.75 million

Show question

Question

What were the three tests Yerkes devised to give to recruits?


Show answer

Answer

Alpha test, beta test, and individual oral examination.

Show question

Question

What was the average mental age for white Americans?


Show answer

Answer

13

Show question

Question

What two correlations did Yerkes find in his results?


Show answer

Answer

One, immigrants who arrived recently and had a poor grasp of English did not do well in the beta test. Two, the longer an immigrant had lived in America, the better his test scores.

Show question

Question

Yerkes' research findings led to the passing of what act in 1924?


Show answer

Answer

The Immigration Restriction Act

Show question

Question

How did this greatly affect Jewish immigrants?


Show answer

Answer

As Hitler gained power, it is estimated that from 1924 to 1939, up to six million Jews were denied entry into America. 

Show question

Question

What problem did Gould find with the alpha tests?


Show answer

Answer

The test was supposed to measure native intelligence ability, yet the questions in it were about American culture.

Show question

Question

What problem did Gould find with the beta tests?


Show answer

Answer

The beta test was pictorial, but it still required the use of pencil and paper and a knowledge of how to write numbers. Many of the recruits taking the test had never used a pencil before.

Show question

Question

What did Gould conclude in his review?


Show answer

Answer

The findings obtained from Yerkes' research should be viewed with scepticism. The tests used were culturally biased and did not measure native intelligence ability. In addition, they were poorly administered, and the results of the tests led to significant consequences for many immigrants.

Show question

Question

What was the aim of Hancock et al. (2011) study?

Show answer

Answer

The study aimed to examine the language characteristics of psychopaths on three factors: instrumental nature, unique material and socioemotional needs, and emotional deficit.

Show question

Question

What were the researchers interested in finding out in language use regarding instrumental nature?

Show answer

Answer

Whether the instrumental nature of psychopaths is reflected in language use that is more explanatory and describes cause and effect (e.g., ‘because’, ‘since’).

Show question

Question

What were the researchers interested in finding out in language use regarding unique material and socioemotional needs?


Show answer

Answer

Whether psychopaths referred more to physiological and material needs than higher-up needs such as love, family, and spirituality.

Show question

Question

What were the researchers interested in finding out in language use regarding emotional deficit?

Show answer

Answer

The researchers were interested in whether psychopaths use fewer and less intense emotional words, more disfluencies, language that psychologically distances them from their crime and shows a lack of responsibility.

Show question

Question

What was the design of the experiment in the Hancock et al. (2011) study?

Show answer

Answer

A quasi-experiment.

Show question

Question

How many participants participated in the Hancock et al. (2011) study?

Show answer

Answer

52.

Show question

Question

How many participants did the researchers classify as psychopaths, and how many non-psychopaths in the Hancock et al. (2011) study?

Show answer

Answer

Researchers classified 14 as psychopaths and 38 as non-psychopaths.

Show question

Question

What did the Hancock et al. (2011) study find regarding language use and instrumental nature?

Show answer

Answer

Psychopaths used more subordinating conjunctions (e.g., ‘because’, ‘since’). This finding suggests psychopaths are more likely to describe their murders in a cause and effect manner. They view their murders as logical and goal-oriented.

Show question

Question

What did the Hancock et al. (2011) study find regarding language use, unique material, and socioemotional needs?

Show answer

Answer

When describing their murders, psychopaths used about two times more words describing basic and material needs than non-psychopaths. 

Show question

Question

What did the Hancock et al. (2011) study find regarding language use and emotional deficit?

Show answer

Answer

Psychopaths use more past-tense verbs to describe their murders, indicating a psychological distance from the crime. Their language use was much more disfluent (they used words like ‘uh’ and ‘um’ more often), which shows it is difficult for them to describe such an intense, emotional event to another person. The higher the score for affective deficits on the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, the less positive and emotional their language was.

Show question

Question

What was the conclusion of the Hancock et al. (2011) study?

Show answer

Answer

The language use of psychopaths shows that their view of the world is different from others’. Psychopaths operate in a primitive, rational way.   

Show question

Question

How was psychopathy measured?

Show answer

Answer

Psychopathy was measured using the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised.

Show question

Question

What are the 4 main individual differences?

Show answer

Answer

The 4 main individual differences studied in psychology are:

  1. Culture
  2. Gender
  3. Personality
  4. Development

Show question

Question

Why should we measure individual differences?

Show answer

Answer

Because individual differences influence our behaviours, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, ways of thinking, etc. These need to be considered when conducting psychological research since they can have an effect on the results, and therefore, the conclusions which are drawn from these results and generalised to large groups of people.

Show question

Question

What do individualistic cultures value?

Show answer

Answer

The individual

Show question

Question

What do collectivist cultures value?

Show answer

Answer

The group

Show question

Question

What is the definition of gender?

Show answer

Answer

Gender is when you experience the world in either a masculine or feminine way. Whilst humans are all born as either males or females biologically, gender is a societal development. It includes feelings, behaviours and beliefs. 

Show question

Question

List the Big 5 Personality Traits.

Show answer

Answer

O.C.E.A.N. Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism. 

Show question

Question

What are the different theories of of personality?

Show answer

Answer

Trait theory, the big 5 personality traits (O.C.E.A.N), the psychodynamic theory, the social cognitive perspective, and the humanistic approach 

Show question

Question

What is the definition of developmental psychology with examples?

Show answer

Answer

Developmental psychology is the study of the changes we go through from birth to old age. 

These changes are regarding our attitudes, behaviours, brain functions, physical growth, language acquisition, motor skills, etc.

Show question

Question

List the methods of measuring individual difference.

Show answer

Answer

  • Controlled lab experiments
  • Observations
  • Therapies 
  • Interviews
  • Questionnaires
  • Surveys
  • Scales
  • Dream analysis 
  • Thematic Apperception Test
  • Trait personality tests and inventories 

Show question

Question

Did Gould's study have good cultural diversity? Why?

Show answer

Answer

Yes, Gould's study included participants from 6 different ethnicities, so had good cultural diversity. 

Show question

Question

Did Hancock et al.'s study have good cultural diversity? Why?


Show answer

Answer

No, Hancock et al.'s study focused on Canadian prisoners, so there is little cultural diversity.

Show question

Question

Did Gould's study have social diversity? Why?


Show answer

Answer

Yes, Gould's research was a review of a very big study with a huge sample size, so it tells us about intelligence of the general population and has social diversity.

Show question

Question

Did Hancock et al.'s study have social diversity? Why?


Show answer

Answer

No. Since Hancock et al only focused on 52 men who were in prison for murder, his research cannot really tell us much about the general population, so has little social diversity.

Show question

Question

What was Hancock et al.'s sample size and how many participants were in each of the two groups?

Show answer

Answer

They had a sample of 52 murderers who'd admitted their crime, 14 classed as psychopaths and 38 not.  

Show question

Question

What were the 3 tests included in Yerkes' study that Gould reviewed?

Show answer

Answer

  1. Alpha test, which had eight parts, was for literate recruits and is similar to today's IQ tests.

  2. Army Beta test, a pictorial test for illiterate people who failed the alpha test.

  3. Individual Examinations spoken test, an oral test for those who failed the beta test too.

Show question

Question

What were the results of the mental ages found in Yerkes' study that Gould reviewed?

Show answer

Answer

Yerkes found different average mental ages for people from different countries: white Americans (13), then Russian immigrants (11.34), Italian immigrants (11.01), Polish immigrants (10.74), then Black Americans (10.41). The results determined which role the recruits got.


Show question

Question

What were the 3 things that Hancock et al intended to investigate

Show answer

Answer

  • Whether they use different linguistic features that reflect their worldview, 

  • Whether their language indicates differences in which needs they emphasise from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (basic, physiological or higher needs).

  • Whether their language reflects their lack of emotion.

Show question

Question

What was the conclusion of Hancock et al.'s findings?

Show answer

Answer

Their findings show how psychopaths view the world differently and think in such a different, rational, and primitive way.


Show question

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