Individual Differences and Educational Psychology!
Individual variation is a universal phenomenon. No two individuals are alike, whether in height, weight and strength, in acquired knowledge or skill, in intellect, in emotionality, temperament and morals. We find that Plato recognised individual differences and divided human beings into types. This fact of individual difference has been accepted for millennia, but only recently these have been studied experimentally or subjected to quantitative measurement.
During the middle of the nineteenth century Galton undertook a systematic study of individual differences. He was interested in “the varied hereditary faculties of different men and of the great differences in different families and races.” Besides Galton, another contemporary American psychologist in the field of individual psychology is J. McKean Cattell. He made tests on memory, imagery, keenness of eyesight and hearing, after-images, etc.
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.
Emotional tendencies and behaviour like nervous stability.
Characteristics relating to voluntary control of all forms of actions, e.g., strength of will, tenacity, lethargy, etc.
Reaction tendencies towards situations involving moral, ethical and religious codes and other socially approved standards of conduct, e.g. honest, decent, humane, unselfish, etc.
The Extent of Individual Differences:
Popular belief is that individuals fall naturally into distinct types, with more or less pronounced gaps between the types. If this were so, then the statistical distribution of human beings would show a bimodal or multimodal curve, i.e., a curve with more than one mode or point of concentration, with marked gaps between the modes. Thus, if sex be a fundamental factor in determining the amount of any mental trait, there would be two or more modes in the curve for that trait, if the two sexes are combined in one group. However, studies of human characteristics and abilities do not yield such a curve; they yield, instead, a normal curve with a single mode.
Popular opinion has not been alone in the creation of distinct types. Some psychologists also have contributed to the fallacy by the emphasis they have laid upon extreme cases of personality. They have postulated subjective and objective types, theoretical and practical types, extroverts and introverts, the ascendant and the submissive; the phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic, pyknic’s and the asthenic, etc.’
The range and complexity of variability of human beings is immense, but they cannot be classified into extroverts or introverts, geniuses or idiots. There may be individuals who can be classed at the extreme ends of these traits. But when persons in general are considered, we find that instead of distinct opposed types, there is a continuous gradation from one extreme to the other, showing a concentration of individuals at a central point, with the frequency of occurrence decreasing as the distance from the central tendency increases.
There is a single type, the average around which and from which individuals may deviate as variants. In other words, individual differences are variations from the middle or average or typical individual. From that mean or the middle or typical amount of a trait individual variation in both directions, downward to smaller and upward to greater amounts are continuous. There are no gaps. If the distribution of a big group with reference to any particular trait is plotted graphically, it will take the shape of a normal probability curve.
Variations Within the Individual:
Individual differences in combinations of traits – Actual achievement in any line depends on a combination of traits. A human being is made of an exceedingly large number of different traits, each present in some degree. 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.
Theory of Compensation:
There are theories as to the way in which traits tend to be combined. 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.
“The ability possessed by any individual in any mental trait is the result of:
(a) His original nature,
(b) The extent to which his original tendencies have matured by mere inner growth and
(c) The circumstances of his life and training. His original nature is determined partly by sex, partly by his remote ancestry or race, partly by his near ancestry or family and partly by the unknown causes of variation whereby children of the same parents receive differing inheritances.” To these possible causes Freeman adds the influence of personality and physique. According to Schonell intellectual characteristics, emotional tendencies, physical condition and environmental influences are also the possible causes.
An adequate determination of the influence of racial membership depends upon a proper definition of the racial groups which might form the remote ancestry of present-day individuals. Anthropologists have found it very difficult to agree upon an answer to the question of what constitutes the essential differences between human races.
Yet in spite of the difficulties, they have classified mankind into racial groups, based on a combination of physical traits, like head form, skeletal proportions and size, skin-colour, hair-colour, eye-colour and others, still it is difficult to find a pure racial type, the differences within the so-called racial groups like the European Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean groups are very great. Freeman limits the term race to mean the colour-divisions of mankind, white, yellow, black, brown and red. Very few studies have been made to point out the mental differences between different races.
There are two major fields of investigation:
(i) Those concerning the Negro in the United States, and those concerning the North American Indians—both racial colour groups being important in the United States; and
(ii) The national groups, or foreign-born.
Studies of Sensory and Motor Differences:
Among the earliest notions regarding the mental differences existing between the races of man was the belief that savages and primitive people have, on the whole, keener senses than the people of our civilisation.
However, this popular notion was rejected by experimental results. Woodworth made a study on about 300 subjects, consisting of American Indians, Negroes from Philippine Islands, Malay, etc. In the sense of vision he found no “cases of very exceptional powers among about the 300 individual”.
The conclusion is that the alleged superiority of the vision of primitives is not supported by experimental facts, Woodworth concluded that, “The sensory and motor processes, and the elementary brain activities, though differing in degree from one individual to another, are about the same from one race to another.”
Comparative studies of the mental abilities of North American Indian children and the white population show consistently inferior score of the Indian children as a group. But these studies most be interpreted with the fact in mind that there are frequently extreme differences in the nature and extent of education and training, during the early years of growth and in the general cultural backgrounds as well. But though Indian children as a group are consistently inferior to white children in mental tests of a verbal character, they are nearly equal to while children in performance tests.
“For education, the results of the investigations clearly show that distinctions cannot be drawn on the basis of racial or racial sub-group membership; for there is a considerable overlapping of groups. Individual differences within a single group are far greater than differences existing at present between groups, and exceptional mentalities have been found and will continue to occur in all groups; Furthermore, it has been shown that the level of effective intelligence in nearly every individual, regardless of race or of initial ability, may be raised through education.”
Mayo secured academic records of 150 negroes who entered high schools of New York City since 1902. For each such record he got a white pupil’s record selected under the same condition. In achievement the negroes were not much inferior.
Differences Due to Sex:
That men and women were quite different in mentality as well as in disposition and physique, which had been assumed for many years. Plato— “The gifts of nature are alike diffused in both. All the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also, but in all of them a woman is inferior to a man.” Apparently, then, Plato regarded the mental differences as of quantity but not as of kind. So in Europe and America we find few opportunities were given to women till the nineteenth century.
The conditions and circumstances of the lives of men and women are too diverse to warrant the conclusion of innate inferiority on the basis of achievement. However, since standardized psychological and educational tests have become available, it has been possible—with a reasonable degree of accuracy—to measure the two sexes with respect to certain aspects of mentality, and under environmental conditions which, on the whole, are much more nearly equalized than they were previously.
Galton in his Inquiries into Human Faculty says with regard to the power of sensory discrimination, “I have found as a rule, men have more delicate powers of discrimination than women, and the business of experience of life seems to confirm this view,”—e.g. there is absence of women among piano-tuners, wine-tasters, tea-tasters, etc.
Recent Studies of the Mental Abilities of the Sexes:
Studies have been made on general intelligence, specific abilities, educational attainments.
1. Terman using the Stanford Binet test with 457 boys and 448 girls between the ages of five and fourteen inclusive, found that the average IQs were as follows:
Though averages for the girls are higher than those for the boys, the differences between the groups are really negligible. Slight difference between boys and girls is manifest even at a very early stage, but the differences are so modest that they are rarely psychologically or statistically significant’.
On Specific Traits:
1. A small but consistent superiority of females over general linguistic ability has been found by practically all investigators.
2. In the matter of number concepts and arithmetical abilities, including computation and arithmetical reasoning—the weight of evidence is on the side of a difference in favour of the male groups.
3. In respect of memory girls are better.
4. In manual performance and mechanical ability boys are better.
Male sex is more variable at least at the extremes. Central tendencies (averages) of the sexes in the measures of “general ability” are so close as to warrant the conclusion that in respect to the mass of individuals there are not very significant disparities attributable to the sexes as such, the more important features being the very great overlapping of the distributions of the sexes and variation within each sex.
Influence of Family or Inheritance:
This problem—the relative influence of inherited and environmental factors in the development of an individual.
The genetic theory has contributed a lot to understand the source of human diversities. The genes account in part for the differences as well as similarities between parent and offspring.
The absence of a perfect or nearly perfect correspondence of abilities within a family is also due in part to inherited or genetic differences.
Influence of Environment:
Studies have been made by Galton and Cattell in this respect. On the whole, attempts to analyse individual abilities into amounts due to nature and nurture have left the problem unsolved. The causes of individual differences are thus partially attributable to sex, as well as to general factors of heredity and environment.
Influence of Maturity or Age on Mental Growth:
Maturation is usually defined as the attainment of the state of complete development. An organism which has completed its development is said to be mature. Maturity always involves two extremely correlated factors – growth and development. Growth means mere increase in size—a quantitative affair. Development is qualitative. Exercise a muscle and it grows in size. It also hardens and assumes a better tone. This is due in part to development.
In certain mental traits maturity or inner mental growth causes one individual to differ year by year from his former self, irrespective of all training, and also rates of maturity for different individuals are not the same, thus causing individual differences.
Study of this fact is difficult, as there is no criterion of maturity. An individual’s degree of mental growth cannot be inferred from his age. If we could separate out die effect of mere growth from within the effect of training that accompanies it, we could measure each of the two; such separation is impossible with present knowledge.
It is quite likely that nature, environment and desire to learn—these three factors are involved in maturation or changes of mental traits with age. Method to measure mental maturity the same individual is to be studied for a number of years, which is known as a longitudinal method. Gesell says that “The best evidence indicates the presence of individual differences in rate and character of mental growth quite early in infancy.”
Some Characteristics of Mental Development:
1. Mental development during the first five or six years is very rapid.
2. Mental growth has shown to be strikingly regular and orderly.
3. The predictive value of the available measurements of performance in infancy and early childhood for later years has not as yet been demonstrated.’
4. The constancy of the I.Q. has also been studied in a number of long-term studies. It has been found that in majority of cases I.Q. changes very little. Yet fluctuations occur, and “although generalizations are possible with respect to the character and constancy of development, the importance and possible exceptional character of the individual case is emphasised by the occurrence of a small number of marked variations among the average group and by a larger number of such in the very superior group.”
Educational Significance of Individual Differences:
Although normal children pass through a cycle of growth and decline, the growth of different persons in any trait proceeds at various rates and reaches different levels at maturity. The consequence is that, at any given age, children are far from identical in any particular trait and are even more diversified in the total combinations or pattern of their traits.
They differ greatly in each minute trait and more markedly in total personality. These individual differences among children similar in age or in grade placement in school have been subjected to careful scientific study since 1900.
1. Adaptation of aims of education to the individual:
Individual differences require the adaptation of the curriculum to the talents and limitations of each pupil. To enable each person simultaneously to satisfy most fully the wants of himself and of all others, it is necessary to explore the equipment of every pupil and promote his development along the lines in which he is most reachly endowed and to the extent that his capacities justify. That is, differential education is to be provided which is the basis of democracy,
2. Need to recognise value in the less abstract studies:
Schools have been developed to reward most fully those who excel in abstract intelligence. It is a fixed tradition of schools that the teaching of reading, spelling, composition, history, mathematics and other abstract and linguistic subjects is the main objective. Achievement in handwork, art, mechanics, etc. should also be rewarded.
3. Need for provision for different rates of progress:
Individuals grow at different rates and reach different levels at maturity. “Individual differences then demand a longitudinal as well as a horizontal specialisation. Different rates of progress and different lines of study are both required to fit differences in capacity and to harmonies with the different vocational, recreational, social, civic and other duties which will characterize adult life.”
4. Equalizing rewards by means of accomplishment quotient technique:
A recent invention of educational psychology is the accomplishment technique. “The purpose of this device is to make it possible to reward not only absolute achievement along any line but also attainment in proportion to the capacity of the individual for productivity in that line. It provides a tangible goal and or functioning incentive for every person, namely to achieve a result that lies within his powers. The prize should go to him whose accomplishment, whatever its absolute amount may be, is highest in proportion to his aptitude.”
5. Need for better instruction of the most gifted child in the class.
6. Need of attention to differences in emotionality and other traits:
Individuals differ not only in capacities to learn but in the relative strength of fundamental wants and interests. In all instinctive emotional temperamental and volitional tendencies differences are found. In all these traits we find extreme cases—the extremely timid and aggressive, the emotionally unstable and the emotionally callous, the hyperactive and the extremely sluggish in movement; the weak and vacillating and the persistent and stubborn wills, the melancholic and the frivolous temperaments. All these extreme cases require special treatment.
7. Need of adapting materials and methods of instruction in common subjects to individual differences:
Ideally, instruction should be individualized. Incentives, materials and methods should be adapted to personal needs. This statement does not mean that each child should be taught in isolation. Group activities offer rich possibilities for the development of social habits needed in modern society, but within the limitations of group work, instruction can be largely adapted to individual differences. Different amount and kind of content can be used to teach many subjects and attempt should be made to meet a large range of individual demands.
There is a false assumption that individual differences are hostile to selection and organisation of the subject matter. John Dewey (1859-1952) says in this respect, “Progressive schools set store by individuality and sometimes it seems to be thought that orderly organisation of subject matter is hostile to the needs of students in their individual character …
A child’s individuality cannot be found in what he does or in what he consciously likes at a given movement; it can be found only in the connected course of his actions. Consciousness of desire and purpose can be genuinely attained only towards the close of some fairly prolonged sequence of activities. Consequently, some organisation of the subject-matter reached through a serial or consecutive course of doings, held together within the unity of progressively growing occupation or project, is the only means which corresponds to real individuality.
So far is organisation from being hostile to the principle of individuality… that much of the energy that sometimes goes to thinking about individual children might better be devoted to discovering some worthwhile activity and arranging the conditions under which it can be carried forward.