Understanding individual differences

This module shows how an integration of material from across the range of disciplines within psychological science can be applied to understand the ways in which differences between individuals can arise. The module will critically examine the classical dichotomy of ‘nature vs. nurture’, and explore how a range of investigative techniques (including twin studies and statistical genetic analysis) have developed our understanding of psychological variation.

Main topics include:

  • Examination of the classical distinction between ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ and the status of genetic, environmental and epigenetic explanations of psychological variation
  • Discussion of the techniques for studying the influence of these factors upon mental health, and differences in cognition and development, including twin studies, behavioural genetics and Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS)
  • Exploration of the nature of gender differences, the role of biological sex and culture in the development of gender identity, and sex differences in cognitive abilities and vulnerability to mental health and developmental disorders including depression, autism and ADHD
  • Exploration of social and cultural influences on the vulnerability to mental health problems, using global mental health and social psychiatry approaches.

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the key theories and evidence regarding the development of psychological traits including personality, intelligence and mental illness.
  • Understand and discuss the principles of genetics and epigenetics, including the genetics of psychiatric disorders and other complex traits. Describe and evaluate the use of genome wide association studies to investigate genetic contributions to cognitive abilities and mental health problems.
  • Critically evaluate the evidence regarding the relative contributions of sex, gender, culture, and experiences (including stress and trauma) to individual differences.
  • Understand, and provide a critical evaluation of, the explanations that theories offer for the origin of individual differences, and the types of evidence that support and challenge these theories.
  • Communicate their understanding and application of their knowledge effectively in the form of concise and focused essays, using persuasive arguments.

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