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Sunday, February 7, 2010

VARIATIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL ATTRIBUTES



INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN HUMAN FUNCTIONING

Individual variations are common within and across all species. Variations add colour and beauty to nature. For a moment, think of a world around you where each and every object is of the same colour, say red or blue or green. How would the world appear to you? Certainly not a beautiful one! Would you prefer to live in such a world? In all likelihood, your answer will be ‘no’. Like objects, people too possess different combinations of traits. Variability is a fact of nature, and individuals are no exception to this. They vary in terms of physical characteristics, such as height, weight, strength, hair colour, and so on. They also vary along psychological dimensions. They may be intelligent or dull, dominant or submissive, creative or not so creative, outgoing or withdrawn, etc. The list of variations can be endless. Different traits can exist in varying degrees in an individual. In this sense, each one of us is unique as s/he exemplifies a typical combination of various traits. The question which you may like to pose is how and why people differ. This, in fact, is the subject matter of the study of individual differences. For psychologists, individual differences refer to distinctiveness and variations among people’s characteristics and behaviour patterns.

While many psychologists believe that our behaviours are influenced by our personal traits, some others hold the view that our behaviours are influenced more by situational factors. This latter view is known as situationism, which states that situations and circumstances in which one is placed influence one’s behaviour. A person, who is generally aggressive, may behave in a submissive manner in the presence of her/his top boss. Sometimes, the situational influences are so powerful that individuals with differing personality traits respond to them in almost the same ways. The situationist perspective views human behaviour as resulting from interaction of external and internal factors.

ASSESSMENT OF PSYCHOLOGICAL ATTRIBUTES

Psychological attributes are involved in very simple phenomena like in time taken to react to a stimulus, i.e. reaction time, and also in highly global concepts like happiness. It is difficult to count and specify the number of psychological attributes that can be assessed. Assessment is the first step in understanding a psychological attribute. Assessment refers to the measurement of psychological attributes of individuals and their evaluation, often using multiple methods in terms of certain standards of comparison. Any attribute will be said to exist in a person only if it can be measured by using scientific procedures. For example, when we say, “Harish is dominant”, we are referring to the degree of ‘dominance’ in Harish. This statement is based on our own assessment of ‘dominance’ in him. Our assessment may be informal or formal. Formal assessment is objective, standardised, and organised. On the other hand, informal assessment varies from case to case and from one assessor to another and, therefore, is open to subjective interpretations. Psychologists are trained in making formal assessment of psychological attributes. Once assessment is done, we can use this information to predict how Harish will probably behave in future. We may predict that Harish, if given a chance to lead a team, will most likely be an authoritarian leader. If the predicted consequence is not what we want, we may want to intervene to effect a change in Harish’s behaviour. The attribute chosen for assessment depends upon our purpose. In order to help a weak student perform well in examinations, we may assess her/his intellectual strengths and weaknesses. If a person fails to adjust with members of her/ his family and neighbourhood, we may consider assessing her/his personality characteristics. For a poorly motivated person, we may assess her/his interests and preferences. Psychological assessment uses systematic testing procedures to evaluate abilities, behaviours, and personal qualities of individuals.

Some Domains of Psychological Attributes
Psychological attributes are not linear or unidimensional. They are complex and expressed in terms of dimensions. A line is a mere aggregate of many points. A point occupies no space. But think of a box. It occupies space. It can be described only in terms of its three dimensions, i.e. length, width, and height. Similar is the case with psychological attributes. They are usually multi-dimensional. If you want to have a complete assessment of a person, you will need to assess how s/he functions in various domains or areas, such as cognitive, emotional, social, etc. We will discuss in this chapter some important attributes that are of interest to psychologists. These attributes are categorised on the basis of varieties of tests used in psychological literature.

1. Intelligence is the global capacity to understand the world, think rationally, and use available resources effectively when faced with challenges. Intelligence tests provide a global measure of a person’s general cognitive competence including the ability to profit from schooling. Generally, students having low intelligence are not likely to do so well in school-related examinations, but their success in life is not associated only with their intelligence test scores.

2. Aptitude refers to an individual’s underlying potential for acquiring skills. Aptitude tests are used to predict what an individual will be able to do if given proper environment and training. A person with high mechanical aptitude can profit from appropriate training and can do well as an engineer. Similarly, a person having high language aptitude can be trained to be a good writer.
3. Interest is an individual’s preference for engaging in one or more specific activities relative to others. Assessment of interests of students may help to decide what subjects or courses they can pursue comfortably and with pleasure. Knowledge of interests helps us in making choices that promote life satisfaction and performance on jobs.

4. Personality refers to relatively enduring characteristics of a person that make her or him distinct from others. Personality tests try to assess an individual’s unique characteristics, e.g. whether one is dominant or submissive, outgoing or withdrawn, moody or emotionally stable, etc. Personality assessment helps us to explain an individual’s behaviour and predict how she/he will behave in future.

5. Values are enduring beliefs about an ideal mode of behaviour. A person having a value sets a standard for guiding her/his actions in life and also for judging others. In value assessment, we try to determine the dominant values of a person (e.g., political, religious, social or economic).

Assessment Methods

Several methods are used for psychological assessment. You have learnt about some of these methods in Class XI. Let us recall their key features.

• Psychological Test is an objective and standardised measure of an individual’s mental and/or behavioural characteristics. Objective tests have been developed to measure all the dimensions of psychological attributes (e.g., intelligence, aptitude, etc.) described above. These tests are widely used for the purposes of clinical diagnosis, guidance, personnel selection, placement, and training. Besides objective tests, psychologists have also developed certain projective tests, especially for the assessment of personality.

• Interview involves seeking information from a person on a one-to-one basis. You may see it being used when a counsellor interacts with a client, a salesperson makes a door-to-door survey regarding the usefulness of a particular product, an employer selects employees for her/his organisation, or a journalist interviews important people on issues of national and international importance.

• Case Study is an in-depth study of the individual in terms of her/his psychological attributes, psychological history in the context of her/his psychosocial and physical environment. Case studies are widely used by clinical psychologists. Case analyses of the lives of great people can also be highly illuminating for those willing to learn from their life experiences. Case studies are based on data generated by different methods, e.g. interview, observation, questionnaire, psychological tests, etc.

• Observation involves employing systematic, organised, and objective procedures to record behavioural phenomena occurring naturally in real time. Certain phenomena such as mother-child interactions can be easily studied through observation. The major problems with observational methods are that the observer has little control over the situation and the reports may suffer from subjective interpretations of the observer.

• Self-Report is a method in which a person provides factual information about herself/himself and/or opinions, beliefs, etc. that s/he holds. Such information may be obtained by using an interview schedule or a questionnaire, a psychological test, or a personal diary.

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