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Differential psychology

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Differential psychology is concerned with the study of individual differences in humans. 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). Differential psychology focuses on this second level of study.

For example, think of a group of students taking a typing test. Some students will work very slowly, typing fewer sentences, but making few errors. Other students will work very quickly, typing much more while making more errors. This is an example of an individual difference in speed/accuracy tradeoffs. Some individuals will work fast with lots of errors and others will work slowly with few errors, even when they are given the same instructions.

Typical areas of study in differential psychology are personality, motivation, intelligence and ability, 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 programs, including educational psychology, industrial psychology, and social psychology programs.

Prominent differential psychologists: Phillip Ackerman, Cyril Burt, Raymond Cattell, Lee Cronbach, John B. Carroll, J.P. Guilford, Lloyd Humphreys, Arthur Jensen, Richard Lynn, Richard Snow, Robert J. Sternberg, L.L. Thurstone.

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  • Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Furhnam, A. (2006). Intellectual competence and the intelligent personality: A third way in differential psychology. Review of General Psychology, 10, 251-267. Full text
  • Kanai, R., & Rees, G. (2011). The structural basis of inter-individual differences in human behaviour and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12, 231-241. Full text

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