PB205      Half Unit
Individual Differences and Why They Matter

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Jet Sanders CON.3.08


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Psychological and Behavioural Science. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

Course content

This course offers insight into the nature of differences in the psychological processes of individuals and the implications of such variation for behaviour and behaviour change. While most policies are designed with the ‘average citizen’ in mind, we know there is large variety between people’s thoughts, choices and behaviour. More recently, these differences are leveraged to personalise behavioural intervention, advertising and political communication to target specific ‘segments’ of the population with the aim to enhance results. This course digs deeper into the psychological and behavioural assumptions which underlie how individuals behave collectively and individually in the wider societal context. Sample topics include how individual traits affect cognitive performance, how ideological preferences and voting patterns can be traced to individual and group variation, whether there is use in mapping personality, grit, perfectionism or motivation, and the ethical implications of applying these insights in behaviour change contexts. We will consider sources of individual variation from the micro-level (e.g. behavioural genetics) to the macro-level by aligning content to sustainability goals (e.g. political decision outcomes, global health and climate change communications or resource distribution). Ultimately, the goal is to understand why and how people differ in their enduring patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving across contexts, and what this means for contemporary societies.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and classes totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. There is a reading week in Week 6 of Lent Term.

In response to the current situation, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of live online classes and pre-recorded short online videos. You will receive the same amount of teaching whether you are on campus or online.

Formative coursework

Students will complete a number of pieces of formative work to cement learning and prepare for summative assessments:

  • Weekly peer- and self- reviewed annotated bibliography (approx. 100 words)
  • Practice visual design on an A5 postcard
  • Outline for a 2-page POSTnote (approx. 500 words), supported by 5 samples of annotated bibliography (500 words)

Indicative reading

  • Bouchard, T. J. & McGue, M. (2003). Genetic and environmental influences on human psychological differences. Journal of Neurobiology, 54(1), 4-45.
  • Cronbach, L. J. (1957). The two disciplines of scientific psychology. American Psychologist, 12(11), 671.
  • Trahan, L., Stuebing, K., Fletcher, J. & Merrill, H. (2014) 'The Flynn Effect: A Meta-Analysis' Psychological Bulletin, 140(5), pp. 1332-1360
  • Appelt, K., Milch, K., Handgraaf, M. & Weber, E. (2011) 'The Decision Making Individual Differences Inventory and Guidelines for the Study of Individual Differences in Judgment and decision-making Research' Judgment and Decision Making, 6(3), pp. 252-262
  • Curran, T. & Hill, A. P. (2019) ‘Perfectionism is increasing over time: A meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016’ Psychological Bulletin, 145(4), pp. 410-429
  • Rimfeld, K., Kovas, Y., Dale, P. S. & Plomin, R. (2016) ‘True grit and genetics: Predicting academic achievement from personality’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(5), pp. 780-789
  • Revelle, W., Wilt, J. & Condon, D. M. (2011). Individual differences and differential psychology: A brief history and prospect.
  • Asendorpf, J. B. (1992). Beyond stability: Predicting inter‐individual differences in intra‐individual change. European Journal of Personality, 6(2), 103-117.
  • Paulhus, D. L. & Williams, K. M. (2002). The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36(6), 556-563.
  • Ashton, M. C. (2013) Personality Traits and the Inventories That Measure Them in Ashton, M C (eds.) Individual Differences and Personality (2013) Academic Press: London
  • McGrath, J. E, & Kelly, J. R. (1992). Temporal context and temporal patterning: Toward a time-centered perspective for social psychology. Time & Society, 1(3), 399-420.
  • Schwartz, B. Ward, A. Monterosso, J. Lyubomirsky, S. White, K. & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Maximizing versus satisficing: Happiness is a matter of choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(5), 1178.
  • Deary, I. J. (2012). Intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 453-482.
  • Furr, R.M. (2009). Personality psychology as a truly behavioural science. European Journal of Personality. 23(5), 369-401
  • Hardcastle, S. J. & Hagger, M. S. (2016). Psychographic profiling for effective health behavior change interventions. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1988
  • Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., Knopik, V. S. & Neiderhiser, J. M. (2013). Behavioural Genetics. (6th ed.) Worth.
  • Hine, D. W., Reser, J. P., Morrison, M., Phillips, W. J., Nunn, P. & Cooksey, R. (2014). Audience segmentation and climate change communication: conceptual and methodological considerations. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(4), 441-459.
  • Lipman, S. (2020) One size fits all? Designing financial incentives tailored to individual economic preferences Behavioural Public Policy 1-15
  • Perkins, A. (2016). The Welfare Trait: How State Benefits Affect Personality. Springer.
  • Poropat, A. E. (2009). A meta-analysis of the five-factor model of personality and academic performance. Psychological Bulletin, 135(2), 322.


Essay (10%) in the ST.
Report (70%) and visual media (20%) in the LT.


Visual Media (20%) in LT – You will produce a visual design on an A5 postcard.

Report (70%) in LT –  You will write a two-page POSTnote (1500 words) with a thematically annotated bibliography in support (1500 words)

Integration Essay - Students following the BSc in Psychological and Behavioural Science will be expected to submit one 3000 word ‘Integration Essay’ in their second year. The integration essay will count towards 10% of the final mark in PB200, PB201, PB202, PB204 and PB205.  The integration essay will discuss a topic investigated in one course and use its approach to integrate and debate approaches from two other courses taken in Year 2. For example, if you choose to base your integration essay in Individual Differences and Why They Matter (this course) you will use a topic from this course as the basis for debating the treatment of that topic by theories from two of Biological Psychology (PB200), Cognitive Psychology (PB201), Developmental Psychology (PB202) and Social Psychology: Individuals, Groups and Culture (PB204).

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Psychological and Behavioural Science

Total students 2020/21: 29

Average class size 2020/21: 10

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills