Individual Differences: Meaning and Causes

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

The psychology study is worthwhile, as it points out the variety in behaviors or individual characteristics. The discipline of psychology examines "individual differences in terms of how we think, how we feel, what we desire and need, and what we do." Personality theories often consider fundamental human traits, and most of the contemporary personality researches concentrate on individual differences and individual characteristics.

Meaning of Individual Differences

Individual differences, according to Drever James, are any changes or deviations from the group's average that each group member has in terms of their mental or physical characteristics. Plato claims that no two persons are born alike, but one differs from the other in natural endowments, the one fitted for one activity and the other for another.

Nature vs. Nurture Debate

Understanding other people's ideas is a significant development that allows youngsters to adjust in their social environments. Psychologists highlight the nature vs. nurture argument to understand this better. This argument is about whether variations in human behaviors are caused by nature or nurture.

Nature: It refers to the genetic factors inherited from our parents and other relatives, such as height, skin color, eyes’ color, nose shape, etc.

Nurture: It refers to all those environmental factors that influence us, such as the nurturing process, family socioeconomic conditions, social factor, and cultural factors.

One of the oldest and unsolved controversies is the relative relevance of genetic vs. environmental influences. Nativists are those who hold the view that our genetic makeup only influences our behavior. People who hold this opinion believe that "variations in genetic makeup cause human behavior variations." Environmentalists and empiricists are supporters of the opposing side of this argument. They contend that past experiences or current environmental circumstances influence individual behaviors. John Locke compared the human mind with a tabula rasa—a blank page that fills over time as our life experiences are gained. Nevertheless, current thinking on this issue, does not arrive on any decision.

Areas of Individual Differences

There are various aspects of human behaviors; and, it can be seen in terms of the individual differences. The significant aspects of individual differences are:


Intelligence is the ability to acquire and learn something and then apply that at a right place on a right time. Binet and Simon were the one who attempted to define intelligence as early in 1905. They described it as the "ability to appraise well, to understand well, and to reason effectively." The noticeable definition of intelligence was given by Wechsler. According to him "the aggregate or global capacity of the individual to behave purposefully, to think rationally, and to successfully interact with the environment." Over period in time, this definition accepted and frequently used by most of the scholars and researchers working in this field. According to Gardner, intelligence is "the capacity or capability to deal with issues or produce things valued within one or more cultural settings." He used the phrase "Multiple Intelligences."


An individual's capacity to learn a certain skill or information after receiving training is indicated by a mix of traits known as their aptitude. These abilities can be enhanced with the right training. In other words, even with adequate training, a person would not be a good musician, if he/she lack the unique skills necessary to become a musician, such as the ability to distinguish between pitch, tone, rhythm, and other characteristics of musical sensitivity. There are clear distinctions between achievement, aptitude, and intellect. A person's capacity to perform a specific task at a specific moment is related to intelligence. On the other hand, aptitude describes a person's perspective capacity to carry out a task, which typically requires different sets of skills. Performance at any particular moment constitutes achievement. Achievement refers to the performance of an individual at any given time in a subject (like mathematics), which has been given to him.


Personality is sum of behaviors that a human being reflect in a given period of time. Many psychologists attempted to define personality; however, among all, Allport's definition is widely used. According to him "personality is the dynamic arrangement within the person of those psychophysical processes that define his particular adaption to his environment." Different schools of psychologists attempted to understand personality with different approaches and each of these viewpoints explains specific facets of personality; a few of them are:

  • The trait perspective describes personality in terms of traits such as introversion and extraversion.

  • Psychodynamic perspective looks at unconscious needs and conflicts and the influence of earlier stages of development.

  • The humanistic perspective underlines the human’s huge potential for freedom and growth, and it is optimistic, as emphasizes-on positive aspects of life and potentialities.

  • Our personality and behavior patterns are acquired through interaction with others and adopting social and cultural norms.

Emotional Intelligence

The view that emotions convey information about relationships, suggests that emotions and intelligence can work hand in hand. Emotions reflect the relationships between a person and a friend, a family, a situation, or a reflection or memory. Emotional intelligence refers partly to an ability to recognize the meanings of such emotional patterns and reason based on them. Emotional intelligence (EI) predicts outcomes in specific domains of social interaction.

Causes of Individual Differences

There is no single cause for individual differences, but researchers have identified some basic reasons for individuals to behave differently.

  • Heredity: The heretical qualities of a person determine his/her height, size, shape, color, and other physical characteristics, such as hands, legs, and hair. In addition to this, it also plays a significant role in the development of intellectual disparities.

  • Environment: Environmental factors reflect individual differences in behavior, attitude, styles, personality, etc. The environment does not refer only to physical surroundings, but it also includes different types of people, society, culture, customs, ideas, and ideals.

  • Race and nationality: Race and nationality are one cause of individual differences. Some nationals are peace-loving, some are cruel: and some are frank.

  • Sex: Due to sex variation, one individual differs from the other. Men are strong in mental power. On the other hand, women have a little advantage over men in memory, language, and aesthetic sensibility. Women excel the men in shouldering social responsibilities and better control over their emotions.

  • Age: Age is another factor that is responsible for bringing individual differences. Learning ability and adaptability naturally increase with age. When one grows, one can acquire better control over his/her emotions and better social responsibilities. When a child grows, this maturity and development go side by side.

  • Education: Education is a potential factor that brings individual differences, and there is a wide gap in the behaviors of an educated and uneducated persons. All traits of human beings like social, emotional, and intellectual are controlled and modified through proper education.


Likewise, there is no concluding remark, which can confirm the specified reasons of existence of individual differences in different human beings. There are certain number of factors that simultaneously affect or influence. In addition to this, given circumstance is also a major factor that influence same person to behave differently in similar situation and behave similarly in different situations.


Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47