Concept of Individual Differences

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

Individual variation is a universal phenomenon. It is  said that no two individuals are exactly alike they differ from each other in some way or the other. Such a similarity or difference between persons reveals individual differences in the early 1800s. 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”. Individual differences psychology focuses on this second level of study.

It is also sometimes called Differential Psychology because researchers in this area study the ways in which individual people differ in their behavior.

According to the dictionary of education

1-Individual differences stand for the variation or deviations among individuals in regard to a single characteristic or number of characteristics.

2. It is stand for those differences which in their totality distinguish one individual from another. So, we can say that individual differences is the differences among humans that distinguish or separate them from one another and makes one as a single unique individual.

The study of individual differences helps  to understand not only what makes humans similar to one another, but also what makes them different. By considering the variations that can occur from one person to another, one can best understand the full range of human behavior

Children develop at different rates. This, in turn, creates variations among individuals (i.e., individual differences). Again, these differences can be either qualitative or quantitative. For children in any preschool classroom setting, the differences in temperament, personality, intelligence, achievement, and physical factors such as height and weight, are noteworthy and reflect a wide range of normal variation. Some children grow rapidly and others grow more slowly. There also are racial and gender developmental variations.

It is important to understand that the concept of individual differences is the basis upon which one child is compared to another. An understanding of individual differences provides the foundation for recognizing normal variations as well as extreme differences among children and, thus, for identifying those who may have special needs. In general, understanding of the various developmental levels is enhanced by familiarity with the concept of individual differences

Each student is a unique individual, different in cognitive and affective development, social maturity, ability, motivation, aspiration, learning styles, needs, interests and potential. Apart from this, there are other factors underlying student differences. These include innate differences in intelligence, differences in social and economic background, variations in past learning experiences, and perhaps variations in the level of congruence between the learner and the curriculum. In view of these factors, catering for individual differences is intended neither to narrow the gap between individuals nor to even out their abilities and performance. It should aim for understanding why students are able or unable to learn well and finding appropriate ways to help them learn better.

The aim of education is to enable each student to attain all-round development according to his/her own attributes. To achieve this, students should be provided with suitable assistance and guidance in accordance with their abilities and learning needs, so that they can develop their potential to the full.

Causes of Individual Differences:

There are various causes which are responsible in bringing individual differences.


Some heretical traits bring a change from one individual to other. An individual’s height, size, shape and color of hair, shape of face, nose, hands and legs so to say the entire structure of the body is determined by his heretical qualities. Intellectual differences are also to a great extent influenced by hereditary factor.


The environmental influences are those which act upon the organism, at the earlier stages development within mother‟s womb and later external environment which operates from the time birth. The social psychological environment in which, child is born provides social heritage. The customs, socio-economic status, family environment interaction amongst the family members and later peers and school environment cause variety conditions to determine individual differences.

Environment brings individual differences in behaviour, activities, attitude, and style of life characteristics. Personality etc. Environment does not refer only physical surroundings but also it refers the different types of people, society, their culture, customs, traditions, social heritage, ideas and ideals.

Though environment in any home may outwardly look alike but it has different impact on each individual based on interaction patterns, personality and emotional responses of the individual. No two human beings even belonging to the same family, having similar schooling, will have same environment. The psychological environment is determined interpersonal relationship amongst parent child and other members of the family.


Due to sex variation one individual differs from other. Men are strong in mental power. On the other hand women on the average show small superiority over men in memory, language and aesthetic sense. Women excel the men in shouldering social responsibilities and have a better control over their emotions.


Age is another factor which is responsible in bringing individual differences. Learning ability and adjustment capacity naturally grow with age. When one grows in age can acquire better control over our emotions and better social responsibilities. When a child grows then this maturity and development goes side by side.


Education is one major factor which brings individual differences. There is a wide gap in the behaviors of educated and uneducated persons. All traits of human beings like social, emotional and intellectual are controlled and modifies through proper education.

This education brings a change in our attitude, behaviour, appreciations, Personality. It is seen that uneducated persons are guided by their instinct and emotions where as the educated persons are guided by their reasoning power.


Individual differences are also due to the particular constitution of self the individual himself. Though all siblings are common heredity and environment, yet no two siblings in a same family are alike . This difference is due to the different genes inherited by the individual as well as differences environment.


There has been a tendency in psychology to ignore the experiences of people from different cultures. Two of the studies in this section attempt to explore the experiences of Black People within the Western world. The first study by Gould (1982) is a review of the use of IQ testing. Gould demonstrates how psychological arguments have been used to support racist arguments of White superiority. The study by Habra and Grant (1970) investigates the identity of American Black children. Their study demonstrates that there has been a change in consciousness of Black children from 20 years previously.


A further issue that is often included in the section of individual differences is what psychologists refer to as abnormality. However the concept of abnormality is also a highly controversial issue. The judgment that somebody is abnormal is relative and is based on factors such as culture, class, religion, sexuality and so on.

Classification of Individual Difference

Broadly individual difference may be classified into two categories such as inherited traits and acquired traits:

Alfred Binet’s (1857-1911) contributions to individual psychology also are immense. His intelligence tests (1905) helped to find out mental differences in degrees of brightness or dullness, in the levels of development as represented by average capacities of children of various ages. Various traits in which individuals may differ. The old classification of traits is threefold – physical, mental and moral.

A more comprehensive classification is given by Gates:

(a) Physical traits:

Height, weight, built, appearance, facial expression, health.

(b) Mental traits:

Intelligence, as a measure of general endowment, and more specific forms of mental activity as in memorizing, perceiving, reasoning, imagining.

(c) Special capacities:

Musical, artistic, mechanical, loco-motor and social aptitudes.

(d) Acquired interest:

Knowledge and technical skill.

(e) Temperament:

Emotional tendencies and behaviour like nervous stability.

(f) Volition:

Characteristics relating to voluntary control of all forms of actions, e.g., strength of will, tenacity, lethargy, etc.

(g) Character:

Reaction tendencies towards situations involving moral, ethical and religious codes and other socially approved standards of conduct, e.g. honest, decent, humane, unselfish, etc.

Combination of traits within the individual:

A human being is made of an exceedingly large number of different traits, each present in some degree Individual differences in combinations of traits – Actual achievement in any line depends on a combination of traits.. And there are an infinite number of total combinations and patterns.

Each is unique. It is more important for an educator to know the individual’s characteristics individually, i.e. the individual as a total perso­nality, which is not always possible to deduce from the group data, and graphs, representing group characteristics and individual positions with reference to a group. It is; therefore, always wise to draw a psychograph of an individual to understand him.

Theories of Trait Combination

There are theories  to explain the way in which traits tend to be combined.

Theory of Compensation:

According to the theory of compensation, strength in any one trait tends to be compensated for by weakness in others and vice versa. The effect of this tendency for strength to be balanced by weakness, and weakness by strength would be to make individuals approach an average.

The result would be that despite wide differences among pupils in each single trait, the average or combined equipment for learning arithmetic would tend towards equality. Thus, from the point of view of practical competence, pupils would not differ so greatly.

Theory of Correlation:

The results of many careful studies of the inter­relations of traits have not been in harmony with this view of compensation. “Instead, it has been found that there is a marked positive correlation or coherence, in the amount of all mental traits possessed by an individual.”

“The fact is, correspondence among desirable traits rather than compen­sation, is the rule.” These facts then tend to emphasise the significance of individual differences in combination of traits rather than to minimise them. According to Thorndike the possible causes of variations are the influences of sex, remote ancestry or race, near ancestry or family, maturity and environment.

Areas of individual differences  in Learner

Here are few important areas of individual differences:

Difference in Attitude

Difference in attitude is psyche related to some specific area. Few learners have positive attitude towards a specific topic, subject, and profession than other.

Differences in Interest

interest means you observe some students like a particular subject, teacher, hobby or profession than other.Interest may refer as a motivating force that impels us to attend to a person, a thing, or an activity. So in educational field differences in.

Difference in Psychomotor Skills

Psychomotor Skill is related to some skill acquisition. Some students differ in this area also. Some students easily learn operating a machine and some may not. A wise teacher should diagnose students’ psychomotor skills abilities and encourage them in proper desirable direction.

Difference in Values

Values be given importance by every learner. Some learners value materialist life style other moral or religious life style etc. So education must mould the mind of young generation to have a balance values between materialism and spiritualism.

Difference Study Habits

Some students markedly differ from other students in study habits. Some students are studious and study all the subjects with interest but other may not. Some study in isolation and some in group.

Difference in Self Concept

Difference in self concept is the totality of attitudes, judgment, and values of an individual relating to his behavior, abilities, and qualities. Some students have positive self concept than boost their confidence level and perform better against those who have negative self.

Considering the above  areas of individual differences  in Learner, the first is for any teacher  is to know the abilities, capacities, interests, aptitudes and other personality traits of individual pupils. For this purpose, request assessment in the form of intelligence tests, cumulative record card, interest inventories, attitude scales, aptitude tests and measures for assessing personality traits shall be carried out. In the light of results derived from various tests of knowing individual differences in various potentials, the students in a class can be divided into homogeneous groups. The curriculum should be as flexible as possible. It should have the provision for a number of diversified course. Considering the varying individual differences adjustment with regard to the adaptation of methods of teaching is very effective.

Educational Implications of the Psychology of Individual Difference

  • The notion that individuals differ in various abilities, capacities and personality characteristics necessitates the adoption of individual tendencies in education. It compels the teachers to realize following facts:
  • Aims of education, curriculum, method of teaching should be linked with individual differences considering the different abilities and traits individual.
  • All students can not be benefited by one particular method of instruction and a uniform and rigid curriculum The teacher has to adopt different types of methods of teaching considering individual difference related to interest, need, etc.
  • Some co-curricular activities such as Drama, music, literary activities (Essay & Debate Competition) should be assigned to children according to their interest.
  • Every teacher should try to have the desired knowledge of the abilities, capacities, interests, attitudes, aptitudes and other personality traits of his pupils and in the light of this knowledge should render individual guidance to children for maximum utilization of their potentialities.
  • Teacher uses certain specific teaching aids which will attract the children towards teaching considering their interest and need.
  • Various methods such as playing method, project method, Montessori method, story telling methods are to be used considering/discovering how different children respond to a task or a problem.
  • It is wrong to expect uniformity in gaining proficiency or success in a particular field from a group of students. On account of their subnormal intelligence, previous background, lack of proper interest, aptitude and attitude some students have to lag behind in some or other area of achievement.
  • Curriculum should be designed as per the interest, abilities and needs of different students.
  • In any group there are individuals, who deviate from the norms of the group. Along with the average, the presence of very superior and extremely dull is equally possible in his class.
  • The division of pupils into classes should not be based only on the mental age or chronological age of children but the physical, social and emotional maturity should be given due consideration.
  • In case of vocational guidance the counsellor is to plan the guidance technique keeping in view the needs and requirements of the students.

Provisions for ‘individual differences’ in Schools:

Realization of the above facts or some more of their nature makes us think that we must have some provision for the wide individual differences among our pupils in our schools. Emphasizing this need Crow and Crow (1973) write –

“Since we supposedly are teaching individuals, not groups of individuals, it is the function of the school within its budgetary personnel and curricular limitations to provide adequate schooling for every learner no matter how much he differs from every other learner.”

How can we accomplish this task is a pertinent question to be asked at this stage. In fact, to provide adequate schooling or learning experience for every learner according to his individuality is not a simple task. However, the following suggestions can be helpful for any teacher –

1.            Proper knowledge of individual personalities: The first step in making provisions for individual differences is not how abilities, capacities, interests, aptitudes and other personality traits of individual pupils. For this purpose, frequent assessment in the form of intelligence tests, cumulative record card, interest inventories, attitude scales, aptitude tests and measures for assessing personality traits shall be carried out.

2.            Ability grouping: In the light of results derived from various tests of knowing individual differences in terms of individual potentialities in various dimensions, the students in a class or area of activity can be divided into homogeneous groups. Such divisions can prove beneficial in adjusting the method of instruction to varying individual differences.

3.            Adjusting the curriculum: To meet the requirement of varying individual differences among the pupils, the curriculum should be as flexible and differentiated as possible. It should have the provision for a number of diversified courses and curriculum experiences so that the pupils may get opportunity to study and work in the areas of their own interests and abilities. It should provide adjustment to suit the local requirements and potentialities of students of different groups.

4.            Adjusting the methods of teaching: Considering the varying individual differences, adjustment with regard to the adoption of methods of teaching is very effective. Every teacher should be somewhat free to formulate his own plan and strategy and adopt different instructional procedures which he finds most suited to different pupils. He should follow different procedures or methods of instruction to suit the requirements of varying ability groups of his pupils.

5.            Adopting social programs or methods for individualizing instruction: Schools may also adopt some social programs or methods of teaching like the Dalton plan, the Winnekta plan, project method or use programmed learning material for enabling students to learn at their own individual pace.

6.            Other causes of individualizing instruction: For the purpose of individualizing instruction a few practical measures can also prove beneficial :-

•             The student strength of the class or section should be made as small as possible.

•             The teacher should try to pay individual attention to the group under instruction.

•             The teacher should keep in view the individual difference of his students while engaging them in drill or practice work in the class-room or assigning home-task.

•             In case where ability grouping is not possible and more specifically under the prevalent system of class teaching, special coaching and guidance program for both the dull and the gifted children are most helpful.

Thus, the problem of individual differences can be tackled with multi dimensional tasks. The teacher, school authorities, the parents and the government as well as voluntary agencies – all should join hands to meet the individual requirements of children who possess tremendous individual differences.

Instructional Strategies for Individual Differences

In general, there are three different approaches for developing instructional strategies with individual differences among students.

First,  develop events of instruction that take them into account as part of the instructional process. This is the approach used by Bernice McCarthy, developer of the 4MAT system.

The second approach is to provide some sort of grouping, either between classes or within the classroom itself, in order to reduce or accommodate for the variability with respect to student background, achievement, ability or some other characteristic. Levelling or tracking, classroom grouping, cooperative learning, and individualized instruction are examples of this approach.

Third,  modify the conditions within which instruction is taking place. This is the approach used in mastery learning.

Modifying Events of Instruction

One strategy for dealing with individual differences is to develop or modify the events of instruction so that they specifically address individual differences. This is exemplified by the 4MAT    system developed by Bernice McCarthy. The 4MAT system is a direct instruction approach to teaching that utilizes research on brain lateralization dominance and learning style to identify specific instructional events that will be attractive to a specific type of student. The 4MAT system seems to have considerable face validity.


There are four major approaches to grouping: Between-class Ability Grouping  (often referred to as leveling or tracking), within-class ability grouping, cooperative learning, and individualized instruction.

Between-class Ability Grouping. With respect to Between-class Ability Grouping , research does not support this strategy in terms of learning for all students. Students assigned to the top level (perhaps the top 10 to 15%) seem to benefit from this type of grouping, but middle- and lower-ability students do not.

The major problem with between-class ability grouping may lie more with the method of grouping than with the concept itself. For the most part, ability groups are determined by a composite score on a standardized test of basic skills or on the subtest scores for reading/language arts and mathematics. However, student knowledge and aptitude may not be uniform across all areas of the content being studied. Perhaps multiple regroupings based on specific prerequisite skills might provide a different picture of the viability for between-class grouping.

Another problem that research has found with between-class grouping is that teacher expectations and the quality of instruction are often lower for lower-track groups. Researchers have observed the same teachers in both lower- and upper-level groups and have observed a measurable difference in the performance in these classes. Teachers are generally not as well organized and they use different strategies for questioning when they have entire classrooms composed of lower-ability students.

A final problem with between-class grouping is that students may begin to lower their own expectations when they are placed in a lower-level class. This in turn impacts there achievement which in turn impacts their self-concepts with respect to academic achievement (particularly in that specific class) which consequently negatively impacts the teacher’s expectations and so on. It is this cyclical nature of the impact of ability-grouping that may be most detrimental.

Within-class Ability Grouping. On the whole, research tends to support within-class ability grouping as beneficial to the learning of most students. It seems to be more flexible and, consequently, less stigmatizing. However, this research is based on a small sample of classes (mostly mathematics) and, therefore, needs considerable additional research. In addition, the specific method seems to be important. The ability-grouped active teaching (AGAT) discussed by Slavin is an example of an effective method. In general, if within-class ability grouping is going to be considered, the teacher may want to have only two groups since it will make the grouping process easier to manage.

Cooperative Learning. Cooperative Learning is an instructional strategy in which students are placed in heterogeneous groups.  Cooperative learning is one of the best researched educational innovations of the last two decades. When implemented properly, it can have dramatic effects on student achievement.

Individualized Instruction. While individualized instruction is logically the best way to deal with individual differences, in practice it is very difficult to accomplish. One innovation that may change that is computer assisted instruction    . On the whole, CAI has not yet delivered on its promise to revolutionize teaching and instruction. However, with the more powerful computers now available at reasonable prices we will begin to see an impact on achievement in the near future.

Mastery Learning. A third strategy for dealing with individual differences among students is to change the system within which instruction is provided. This is the strategy used by   mastery learning . In mastery learning, the teaching environment is structured so that students develop mastery of prerequisite skills before they begin a new lesson. In practice, mastery learning has not demonstrated any superiority over traditional instruction when it is implemented on an individual classroom basis.

Measurement of Individual Differences

Measuring the individual differences is very important. After knowing the capability, aptitudes interest, the person can make suitable goals in learning and vocation, which in turn would help him adjust better in the society.

One of the methods used in educational psychology to measure individual differences is psychological tests A psychological test is a structured technique used to generate a carefully selected sample of behavior. A psychological test is an objective and standardized measure of a sample behavior to compare the behavior of two or more persons. Observations are made on a small carefully, chosen sample of an individual’s behaviour.

Psychologists have developed tests to measure different human characteristics. In schools, we use achievement tests which measure what people have learnt. Psychologists frequently use tests of ability and personality. The tests of ability tell what an individual can do when he or she is at his/her best. Ability tests measure capacity as potential rather than achievement. Tests of intelligence and aptitude come under this category. Aptitude refers to the ability to learn a particular kind of skill required in a specific situation. Personality tests measure the characteristic ways of thinking, feeling or behaving.

In order to be useful for the purpose of drawing inferences about the person being tested, it is necessary that the test should be reliable, valid and standardized. A test is reliable if it measures a given characteristic consistently. If a test tells two different values while assessing the object on two occasions then it will be called unreliable. A test of intelligence can be called reliable only when a person scores high or low consistently on both the occasions.

The validity of a test refers to the degree to which it assesses what it intends to assess. A valid test of personality gives a measure of a person’s personality and predicts behavior in situations where that aspect of personality is pertinent.

Finally, an assessment tool should be standardized. Standardization involves establishing the procedure of administration of a test to all persons in the same way under the same conditions. It also involves establishing group norms so that an individual’s score can be compared with those of others in a defined group.. Standardization ensures uniformity and objectivity in administration and makes the results interpretable.










This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.