Differential Psychology

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Related to Differential Psychology: physiological psychology

differential psychology

[‚dif·ə′ren·chəl sī′käl·ə·jē]
The comparative study of the psychological differences between groups of people, for example, men and women.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Differential Psychology


the branch of psychology concerned with individual differences among people. The foundation for the emergence of differential psychology at the turn of the 20th century was the introduction of experimentation and genetic and mathematical methods into psychology. F. Galton (Great Britain), who devised a number of methods and instruments to study individual differences, was a pioneer in the development of differential psychology. The term “differential psychology” itself was introduced by W. Stern (Germany) in 1900. The first major students of differential psychology included A. Binet (France), A. F. Lazurskii (Russia), and J. Cattel (USA).

Tests—both individual and group—are used extensively in differential psychology to determine intellectual differences and, with the invention of projective tests, to determine interests, attitudes, and emotional reactions. With the aid of tests, the factors characterizing general qualities (parameters, indexes) of intellect or personality are clarified through factor analysis. On this basis, qualitative variations in the psychological characteristics of different individuals are determined.

The question of the causes of psychological differences—first and foremost, the problem of the relative role of biological and sociocultural factors in the formation of the characteristics of individual human beings—has been the subject of the most intense debate throughout the history of differential psychology. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was intensive development of new approaches and methods, both experimental and mathematical. The statistical analysis of tests is being perfected (J. Guilford, USA; R. Cattell, Great Britain), the role of personal value orientation is being studied, and the psychological aspects of age and sex differences are being clarified in detail.

Along with differences among individuals in the intellectual sphere, differences in creative and organizational abilities, in general personality structure, and in motivation are being studied extensively. The correlations between psychological characteristics on the one hand and physiological characteristics on the other are being studied (W. Sheldon and H. Eysenck, Great Britain). In the USSR, work in this direction is under way in a number of laboratories—for example, the Institute of Psychology of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR (research carried out by B. M. Teplov and his colleagues on the basis of I. P. Pavlov’s teaching concerning types of higher nervous activity), Leningrad University, and the University of Perm’.

The facts and conclusions of differential psychology are important to the resolution of many practical tasks, including the selection and training of personnel and the diagnosis and prediction of the development of various characteristics, tendencies, and abilities of individuals.


Teplov, B. M. Problemy individual’nykh razlichii. Moscow, 1961.
Piéron, H. La psychologie différentielle, 2nd ed. Paris, 1962.
Anastasi, A. Differential Psychology, 3rd ed. New York, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Differential psychology has been struggling with this problem for years and as long ago as 1911 Thorndike in a book entitled Individuality, clearly showed that the use of measurement scales for common traits was entirely adequate to account for the fact of individuality and uniqueness.
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