Psychology is concerned with peoples’ behavior at three different levels. These are the characteristics common to all people, the unique characteristics common to a group of people, and characteristics unique to each individual. This implies that while there are certain characteristics common to all people, there are those that make each person unique. As a psychology student, I am interested in pursuing any discipline that highlights individual differences and how such differences influence personality. As Gordon (2006) explains it is imperative that I understand career opportunities in this prospective field, and therefore pursue relevant subjects. This will not only enable me to acquire relevant skills but also enhance career prospects. With regards to my career goals, I have chosen to pursue Differential Psychology. Differential Psychology explains the difference between personality and behavior. Each person has differing attitudes, preferences, and values. These variations determine the behavior of each individual. Additionally, other aspects such as age, body size, gender, intelligence, IQ also influence a person’s behavior. Differential Psychologists argue that these variables determine how each individual reacts to stimuli. In this case, Differential Psychology influences personalized medicine as well as educational psychology (Maltby and Macaskill, 2007).
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Differential Psychology in relation to personalized medicine and education
As explained earlier, this discipline equips me with skills that enable me to gain an understanding of how individuals react differently to stimuli. Reaction to stimuli can also be attributed to variations in genes. In light of this, individuals with mental health problems react differently to a specific medication, and thus each patient ought to have customized treatment (Revelle, Wilt, and Condon, 2010; Maltby and Macaskill, 2007). Additionally, within an educational institution, a student’s learning ability is determined by elements such as age, IQ, intelligence, attitudes, and personal preferences. Even though there are general educational interventions, which enable effective learning in schools, there are special students who require customized teaching methods. These include exceptionally gifted students as well as students with learning difficulties. As such, Differential Psychology becomes relevant to educational psychology (Woolfolk, Winne, and Perry, 2006; Maltby and Macaskill, 2007).
Differential Psychology: a theoretical perspective
To effectively study Differential Psychology means that I have to understand its theoretical perspectives. Revelle, Wilt, and Condon (2010) argue that there are numerous theories through which Differential Psychology is understood. While most of these theories are fully developed, the Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory is undergoing empirical verification. Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory is concerned with explaining an individual’s personality and the underlying complex differences between individuals, in terms of biology, cognition, and behavior. This theory is largely descriptive and attempts to explain how emotional, cognitive as well as behavioral patterns result in a unique personality (Revelle, 2006). As such to enhance my understanding of how biology, cognition, and behavior influence personality, I have chosen to focus on this theory.
Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory has numerous theoretical weaknesses. For instance, how researchers perceive the theory depends on the researcher’s study methods and underlying perceptions. This implies that the Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory has numerous, and often conflicting concepts. Additionally, most experiments are conducted on rats rather than human beings. As such, several issues emerge. For instance, in real life, questions have been raised on the applicability of results from such on human beings. Additionally, the ethics of conducting research on animals, and interpreting results with reference to human beings is tantamount to equating humans to animals. Moreover, there are notable problems associated with the measurement of personality constructs using this theory. Even though the theory attempts to refer to biological and conceptual constructs, it is realistically impossible to connect the biological underpinnings proposed in this theory with conceptual constructs such as emotions and perception (Revelle, 2006). Corr (2001) further adds that one of the critical flaws with this theory is the irreconcilable differences between the individual reaction to stimuli and the experimenter’s expected reaction. Coupled with the fact that most of the experiments are done on animals, this is likely to create legal problems especially if those results are used to describe personality differences in human beings.
Other than the theoretical problems highlighted above, there are also questions on whether Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory addresses socio-cultural sensitivities in determining personality differences. Until recently, no attempts have been made to integrate basic theoretical underpinnings with socio-cultural aspects. Corr (2008) achieves this by isolating an individual’s temperament (the stable attributes that determine an individual’s behavior) from character (the instinctive attributes that determine an individual’s behavior). Both temperament and character are either directly or indirectly influenced by prevailing socio-cultural precepts. This implies that socio-cultural perspectives usually have a bearing on the formation of an individual’s personality.
In light of these problems, I will primarily focus on how future studies ought to address these problems with special reference to personalized mental healthcare as well as educational psychology. It is imperative to state that problems with Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory do not in any way invalidate the theory. On the contrary, they offer opportunities for future research work. More specifically, researchers ought to improve the methods of measuring both the biological and conceptual constructs with the purpose of generating accurate results, which can be used not only to describe personality but also an individual’s behavior (Revelle, 2006).
It is imperative to state that Differential Psychology is a very vital discipline that enables prospective mental health experts as well as educational psychologists to gain a deeper understanding of how biology, cognition, and behavior influence personality. With special reference to Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory, one is able to describe individual differences by combining various constructs namely biological, conceptual, and behavioral. Even though there are notable theoretical and practical shortcomings, these provide a prospective differential psychologist with opportunities for further research work. It is imperative to state that Differential Psychology is concerned with individual differences and how an individual’s genetic makeup influences those differences. In light of this, physicians ought to develop appropriate treatment methods customized for each individual.
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Similarly, educators ought to develop teaching methods that address the unique learning abilities of each student. This implies that Differential Psychologists have a role to play in enabling both mental health experts and educational psychologists to understand individual differences. The theoretical shortcomings identified earlier on offer opportunities for future research. It is therefore interesting to see how those opportunities for future research enable one to gain a deeper understanding of individual differences. Additionally, future research ought to address the existing shortcomings in measuring biological and conceptual constructs. Therefore, Differential Psychologists ought to design new methods to measure these constructs. These methods are aimed at generating valid results which will enable them to show the correlation between biology, conception, and behavior as well as enhance understanding of personality differences. Such knowledge is vital for educators and physicians since they are able to understand how physical and affective attributes determine personality and influence response to stimuli. As such, Differential Psychology offers opportunities for growth in such disciplines as medicine and education.
Corr, P. (2001). J. A. Gray’s reinforcement sensitivity theory and frustrative nonreward: a theoretical note on expectancies in reactions to rewarding stimuli. Web.
Corr, P. (2008). The reinforcement sensitivity theory of personality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gordon, V. (2006). Academic advising and career advising. New York: Jossey Bass.
Maltby, J. Day, L. and Macaskill, A. (2007). Personality, individual differences and intelligence. London: Pearson Education.
Revelle, W. (2006). The contribution of reinforcement sensitivity theory to personality theory. Web.
Woolfolk, A., Winne, P. and Perry, N. (2006). Educational psychology. Toronto, Canada: Pearson.