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AS and A Level: The Psychology of Individual Differences

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Five big ideas for essays on individual differences

  1. 1 Put the research in your essay in historical context. Each approach developed as a reaction against what had gone before and in response to contemporary events. Referring to publication dates will help you to understand why such a theory developed when it did.
  2. 2 Understand the dominant paradigms. The cognitive approach is dominant in modern mainstream psychology and the cognitive-behavioural approach is dominant in therapy. The biological approach is dominant in medicine and psychiatry. Other approaches are practiced but receive less funding. Anti-psychiatry exists on the fringes but has influenced service user focused models in mental health practice. Modern psychologists tend to take an eclectic approach in working with individuals.
  3. 3 Consider claims to/against science. Assess the extent to which explanations are supported by scientific research or not. Evaluate the techniques used by psychologists to operationalize mental processes in their research. For example, behavioural responses and psychobiological measures don’t tell us about the nature of thoughts and we can never rely fully on self-report measures.
  4. 4 Consider free will/determinism. The more scientific the approach, the more determinist it tends to be, because science is the search for causes. Seeking ultimate causes of behaviour or chains of causal links is incompatible with the idea that humans have free will and complete moral responsibility.
  5. 5 Consider reductionism-holism. Reductionism is the principle that one should always seek to understand at the most basic, most fundamental level: e.g reducing our understanding of depression to an explanation about the balance of chemicals in the brain rather than looking at the whole person in their social context. As a rule, the more scientific the approach, the more reductionist it is. Those that reject scientific principles and practice often do so because of this reductionism – they want to see and help the whole person.

Five psychological perspectives to look out for in individual differences research

  1. 1 Psychodynamic – The psychodynamic approach rests on the assumption that the psyche is formed and influenced by early childhood experiences. The psyche has three dynamic parts: the id, ego and superego. The ego has to balance the demands of the selfish id and the moral superego, so it experiences conflict if either one is too dominant. It protects itself through abnormal behaviours that disguise this unconscious conflict These are called defence mechanisms. Bringing this conflict into conscious awareness can resolve abnormality.
  2. 2 Behaviourist – The behaviourist approach developed as a reaction to the unfalsifiable psychodynamic approach. Behaviourists emphasise the scientific, experimental manipulation and measurement of observable behaviour – to them, any mental process is inside the ‘black box’ of the mind - which cannot be studied scientifically and so is of no interest. Behaviourism rests on the assumption that all behaviour is learned through interaction with the environment – at birth, the child is a ‘blank slate’. Abnormal behaviours are learned and so can be unlearned.
  3. 3 Cognitive – The cognitive approach developed as a reaction to the behaviourist approach’s ignorance of mental processes. It rests on the analogy that the brain is like a computer – it processes information. So personality or psychopathology can be explained in terms of differences or faults in perception and cognition. Adjusting these processes can rectify any problems.
  4. 4 Humanistic – The humanist approach developed out of the philosophical approach of phenomenology. Humanistic psychologists do not try to objectively measure people, they aim to understand their subjective experiences. They do not search for determinist causes of behaviour but emphasise free will: they focus on the whole person and aim to help achieve personal development.
  5. 5 Anti-psychiatry – The anti-psychiatry movement developed in reaction to the increasing medicalization of mental health in the 1960s. Anti-psychiatrists maintain that mental illness is a myth and that abnormal behaviours are sane responses to a repressive society. It aims to empower the individual – rejecting labels such as ‘patient’.

Five biological perspectives to look out for in individual differences research

  1. 1 Genetic – Seeks to establish the extent to which traits are due to inheritance or environment. Researchers study concordance rates (if one person has a trait or disorder, what is the percentage probability that the relative also has it?) using twin, adoption and family studies.
  2. 2 Evolutionary – seeks to establish continuity between human and other species and explain human diversity in terms of ecological adaptation, maximising survival and reproduction. Look out for studies on primate or other mammal behaviour that are used to draw conclusions about causes of human behaviour.
  3. 3 Neuroanatomical – seeks to understand the relationship between brain structure and behaviour. Often uses case studies of people with damage to certain parts of the brain or post-mortems of people with abnormal behaviours.
  4. 4 Psychobiological – related to the previous approach, but with more of a focus on measuring brain activity using a variety of scanning techniques whilst the individual is engaged in a specific task or activity. Often used for comparisons – eg. The brain activity of diagnosed psychopaths compared against the brain activity of ‘normal’ participants.
  5. 5 Biochemical – related to the previous approach, but with more of a focus on assessing the levels and activity of specified neurotransmitters or hormones and drawing correlations with specific mental states or behaviours e.g. stress.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 18
  • Peer Reviewed essays 15
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    Behavioural Study of Obedience - Stanley Milgram

    5 star(s)

    The subjects were chosen from volunteers who had responded to a newspaper article. This means the sample was self-selecting. We must question whether or not Milgram had a representative sample, by using this study. Milgram chose to study only men, but from a variety of backgrounds and different ages. You might say that by using men this produced a sample that was biased, or did not reflect the general population. Men are thought to be more aggressive than women, so it would make sense to begin a series of experiments with them. Many of the war criminals had been men, so Milgram's sample was representative of the target population.

    • Word count: 2859
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and contrast the main approaches - Biological and Behaviourist, biological and cognitive, Psychodynamic and Behaviourist.

    4 star(s)

    This represents that both approaches are similar in terms of usefulness. A further similarity is that both approaches are seen to be deterministic. Freud believed that our behaviour is determined by innate forces, id, ego and superego, and childhood experience. It therefore believes that we have no free will (choice) on who we become and how we behave. The psychodynamic approach sees our personality as shaped (pre-determined) by forces that we cannot change nor have any control over. The cognitive approach has also been criticised for being deterministic.

    • Word count: 4162
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Describe and Evaluate Psychodynamic, Behaviourist and Humanist Theory of Psychology

    4 star(s)

    (Freud, 1915) Freud asserts that early childhood experiences are important to the development of a healthy adult personality. Freud proposed that childhood development took place in five psychosexual stages; Oral, a**l, Phallic, Latent and Genital. One of the more important stages of this series is the Phallic stage. This stage contains what Freud referred to as the Oedipus complex. This is where the child wishes to posses the opposite s*x parent and eliminate the same s*x parent. The child becomes fearful of the same s*x parent. This conflict can be resolved when the child identifies with the same s*x parent.

    • Word count: 1973
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and contrast two psychological approaches

    4 star(s)

    Behaviourism relies on the Stimulus-Response principle which consists of using an object to create a reaction. Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) initially proposed that humans and animals learn behaviours through the association of stimuli and responses. He stated two laws of learning to explain why behaviour occurs the way that it does: The Law of Effect specifies that any time behaviour is followed by a pleasant outcome that behaviour is likely to recur. The Law of Exercise states that the more a stimulus is connected with a response, the stronger the link between the two.

    • Word count: 1851
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Psychology the factors of Smoking

    4 star(s)

    The psychodynamic explanation for smoking is when a child has been over indulged in the oral stage they tend to be oral fixated in this particular stage which can dominate them as adults later in life in the form of smoking, (wanting to pleasure the mouth with a cigarette). This theory can be supported by evidence to back this up but it still does not explain why some people who are oral fixated do not smoke when they are in adulthood this can be seen as a limitation of the psychodynamic perspective.

    • Word count: 1139
  6. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and Contrast the five main perspectives in psychology

    3 star(s)

    Scientists can now look at the effects of brain damage, drugs, and disease in ways that were simply not possible in the past. Recent advances in research and practice on biological psycology analyse phisyological basis of stress and their effects. Biological approach investigated the role of genetics in schizophrenia, comparing 47 adopted children whose biological mother had schizophrenia, with control group of no schizophrenia history. The result was that none of the controls were diagnosed, 16% of the schizophrenic mothers?? offspring had the illness.

    • Word count: 3508
  7. Marked by a teacher

    Psychology Approaches. Discuss similarities and differences between Comparative Psychology and Biology Psychology

    3 star(s)

    Biopsychologists are neuroscientists who brings to their research a knowledge of behaviour and the methods of behavioural research. They uses animals because their methods of study can not be used with humans. Comparative psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the study of animal behaviour. Modern research on animal behaviour began with the work of Charles Darwin and Georges Romanes and has continued to grow into a multidisciplinary subject. Today, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, ecologists, geneticists and many others contribute to the study of animal behaviour.Comparative psychologists compare the behaviour of different species and focus on the genetics,evolution and adaptivness

    • Word count: 971
  8. Marked by a teacher

    Personality in Sports

    3 star(s)

    He came up with a way to measure these traits, on a Personality Inventory. He identified two major personality dimensions which can be viewed on a continuum: Unstable Introvert Extrovert Stable It is said that extroverts need increased levels of stimulation to maintain optimum levels of attention and brain functioning. Introverts are said to have naturally high levels of excitement within them, therefore tend not to need external stimulation or excitation. An example of an extroverted performer is Roy Keane, and an example of an introverted performer is Theo Walcott. This means that introverts tend to: - Prefer individual sports - Prefer a low level of excitement - Work hard in training - Get

    • Word count: 1442
  9. Marked by a teacher

    Classical and Operant Conditioning

    3 star(s)

    The responses of relaxation and fear are incompatible, and the fear is eventually dispelled. The use of Systematic Desensitisation was first developed by Wolpe in the 1950s. Systematic Desensitisation enables individuals to overcome their anxieties by learning to relax n the presence of stimuli that once made them unbearably nervous and afraid. Wolpe's basic idea was to replace one response (fear) with another (relaxation). This is particularly useful for treating psychological problems in which anxiety is the main difficulty - for example phobias, shyness etc. The mode of action of Systematic Desensitisation is that in the early days of Systematic Desensitisation, patients would learn to confront their feared situations.

    • Word count: 1179
  10. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and Contrast Any Two Theories of Personality

    3 star(s)

    The components id, ego and superego act together during moments of conflict. The id is the part of the brain that is totally unconscious, the ego and superego operate both consciously and unconsciously. The id acts as the pleasure principle, it makes demands that need immediate satisfaction regardless of the external environment; the ego emerges on order to realistically meet the demands of the id in accordance to the outside world. Finally the superego acts as the voice of conscience and enables the ego to sensibly converge the needs and demands of the id in accordance to the outside world.

    • Word count: 911
  11. Marked by a teacher

    Outline and evaluate psychological explanations of anorexia

    3 star(s)

    The increased rates of anorexia in general could be due to the increase of exposure to thin celebrities and slimness being seen as the social norm. However, the behavioural approach cannot explain individual differences. Everyone in the western culture are exposed to the thin celebrities, although a minority develop anorexia. Also many people diet, but only a few develop anorexia. Therefore the behavioural model alone is not sufficient as does not explain the differences between the individuals who develop it and those that don't.

    • Word count: 848
  12. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss the Role of Individual Differences in Stress

    3 star(s)

    It is thought that the hormone oxytocin may also play a part in how women respond to stress, thus producing a more protective response in women. Frankenhauser investigated this by performing a study where he told participants that it was to be a study of pain and offered them the chance to either wait alone or together. Men chose to wait alone in general whilst women sought social comfort to help them cope, which further supports Taylor's findings. However, this one situation only takes into account acute stressful situations, rather than looking at longterm stressors.

    • Word count: 920
  13. Marked by a teacher

    Compare 2 models of abnormal behaviour in terms of their views on the causes of abnormal behaviour. Evaluate whether any single model is adequate to explain and treat all instances of abnormality.

    3 star(s)

    Mental disorders represented as mental illnesses. These illnesses may be caused by one of four possible factors * Genes * Bio-chemical substances * Neuroanatomy * Micro organisms It also says that it can be genetic, passed from parent to child. Cure is only possible by removing by removing the root cause and returning the body to its 'normal' level of functioning. The "Cognitive" model says that the issue is not the problem itself but the way you think about it. Irrational and faulty thinking prevents the individual behaving adaptively.

    • Word count: 707
  14. Marked by a teacher

    Scientific methods in psychology - behaviourist and humanist approaches.

    For example Freud's study on little Hans showed the basic outline of a Scientific Approach, (Case Study, Questionnaire, etc.) Freud used his own perception of the gathered empirical data and put forward theories based on his insight and some gathered evidence. Judging by how much understanding of mind and behaviour we have gained from said study it could be advantageous to sometimes trim the fat of scientific approaches and use human understanding over tried and tested methods. Though there are some very obvious problems by following this system.

    • Word count: 694
  15. Marked by a teacher

    Describe and evaluate two or more biological explanations of schizophrenia

    A classic study by Rosenham (on being sane in insane places) also showed that psychiatrists were all too willing to diagnose the disorder despite very limited information on patient's symptoms. It has even been suggested that American psychologists were 10 times more likely to diagnose schizophrenia than their British counterparts. This leads to the conclusion that the best way to cure oneself of schizophrenia is to cross the Atlantic! (doesn't answer ?) A major explanation of schizophrenia is that it is caused by excessive activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

    • Word count: 682
  16. Marked by a teacher

    Compare and contrast idiographic and nomothetic approaches to the study of Personality.

    The study of clinical psychology focuses on each person in depth, and the role of the clinical psychologist is to try to help them through therapy. There is an idiographic approach to studying personality, by which the study of an individual is carried out independently and without comparison to others. People like Freud, Jung and Rogers were theorists, but also clinicians. In contrast with clinical psychology, academic psychology is primarily focussed on the study of groups of people. For example, psychologists may study the level of aggressiveness in a group of people that are the same age, share the same culture, the same gender or have the same occupation, in a variety of situations.

    • Word count: 1072
  17. Marked by a teacher

    Critique of "Perils of Obedience"

    They started new researches on "ordinary" people and the result was the same. According to Milgram's research we should realize that although society values such ideals as " individualism" and "freedom," it is often difficult for people to live up to their own standards in the face of group pressures. According to the author, "Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social life as one can point to" (276).

    • Word count: 501
  18. Peer reviewed

    OCR G544 - Using examples, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the use of self-reports in psychology. (12 marks)

    5 star(s)

    Another strength of self-reports in psychology is that you can collect both quantitative and qualitative data from them. With the use of closed questions whereby predetermined answers are provided (multiple choice questionnaires, e.g.

    • Word count: 440
  19. Peer reviewed

    Discuss two or more biological therapies for schizophrenia

    5 star(s)

    Kapur and Remington suggested in 2001 that whilst conventional antipsychotics block dopamine receptors long-term, atypical medication does so temporarily, before dissociating to allow normal transmission of the chemical. The differing ways in which the drugs work is central to the argument over whether either is effective or appropriate. Davis et al. (1980) studied the influence of conventional antipsychotics against a placebo and found significant difference in terms of relapse rates, suggesting therapeutic effectiveness.

    • Word count: 701
  20. Peer reviewed

    Discuss the biological approach to psychopathology

    5 star(s)

    According to this approach genes can also be responsible for mental illnesses. Genes tell the body how to function - they determine, for example, the level of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, referred to as biochemistry. This means that certain genes may lead to abnormal biochemistry and/or abnormal neuroanatomy. For example, genes may dictate the low levels of serotonin that have been found in depressed individuals. Genes also determine the structure of the brain, known as the neuroanatomy. For example, research has shown that schizophrenics have enlarged ventricles in their brains, indicating the shrinkage of the brain tissue around these spaces.

    • Word count: 643
  21. Peer reviewed

    Outline and evaluate two or more therapies used in the treatment of schizophrenia.

    5 star(s)

    Conventional antipsychotics (for example chlorpromazine) are used primarily to combat the positive symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations. The basic mechanism of conventional antipsychotics is to reduce the effects of dopamine and so reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia, hence their alter ego, dopamine antagonists. They bind to dopamine receptors but do not stimulate them, thus blocking their action. By reducing stimulation of the dopamine system in the brain, antipsychotics can eliminate the bad symptoms such as hallucinations. Atypical antipsychotic drugs (such as clozapine) also combat these positive symptoms but there are claims that they also have beneficial effects on negative symptoms as well.

    • Word count: 675
  22. Peer reviewed

    Evaluation of Freud's little Hans study.

    5 star(s)

    There is no way of assessing how typical little Hans was and whether or not his situation can be generalised as the study could have been unique between Freud, Hans's father and little Hans. As well as this, Hans's father and mother were supporters of Freud's ideas thus they may have been raising little Hans in relation to Freud's theories so when it came to giving evidence of little Hans's phobia they did so in relation to Frauds' theories. Freud himself did not regularly meet little Hans as he only met him on one or two occasions, so Freud was only interpreting what Hans's father was interpreting of little Hans so it lacks a lot of objectivity.

    • Word count: 591
  23. Peer reviewed

    "Attempts to define abnormality are always limited by cultural differences" Consider how definitions of abnormality may be influenced by cultural differences

    5 star(s)

    The 'Deviation from Social Norms' definition of abnormality is greatly limited by cultural differences, for example in Japan there is a very strong work ethic. Those who do not wish to conform and work hard are labelled insane and confined in asylums. If such behaviour was displayed in England they would not be considered insane, they are only treated in such a way in Japan because they have deviated from that cultures social norm.

    • Word count: 571
  24. Peer reviewed

    Discuss the reliability issues of the experimental method

    4 star(s)

    If there is no interpretation of any information gathered then there is no space for mistakes. Unlike observations that use qualitative data, the experimental method only deals with quantitative data. Quantitative data is collected therefore only figures are collected and analysed to give a specific result. Quantitative data is easily repeated therefore making the experiment reliable. The researcher control's the variables in order to get their quantitative data. For example Elizabeth Loftus's independent variable was whether the man in the scene was holding a cheque or a gun. This is how she manipulated the variables and she then got the participants to fill out a 20 multiple question, questionnaire and then got them to identify the man holding the cheque or the gun from a line up of head and shoulder pictures.

    • Word count: 576
  25. Peer reviewed

    Compare the observation method to any other method

    4 star(s)

    Another difference between the observational method and the experimental method is that the observational method mostly uses qualitative data for their research and the experimental method mostly uses quantitative data. There are strengths and weaknesses of each way of collecting data. Qualitative data is subjective and is useful as it gives an in depth explanation of what the participant is feeling or why they may act the way they act, so giving more understanding to the research.

    • Word count: 503

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?

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