Educational Psychology: What Causes Individual Differences In Learning?

Chapter Six

Individual Differences in Learning 

6a i). Explain the causes of individual differences in Learning.


This lesson shifts its focus on a question that every teacher must teacher must ask all the time. That is what causes individual differences in intellectual ability and achievement. Teacher experience shows that learners in the class, with the same books and same teachers show variations in achievement. This lesson may not be exhaustive in the examination of causes of individual differences but it is hoped that it will leave the teacher more informed and still searching for more answers and solutions.

What Causes Individual Differences In Learning?

When we deal with a topic like individual differences in intellectual ability and achievement. We must bear certain things in mind. First, there is need to realize that individual differences in intellectual ability is difficult to define and measure due to the complexity and the dynamism of the variables that interact to produce these difference. For the purposes of this lesson, we shall define intellectual ability as the capacity to acquire and use knowledge to adapt to the environment. We must also ask the question where intelligence comes from and answer it. According to Lefrancois, (1994) intelligence does not just happen it has a cause. For this reason, we must have revived the old age controversy regarding the determination of all human traits intelligence being one of them. This is the nature-nurture debate, which has been used to explain variations that exist among people. Observation of members of the same family reveals marked contrasts in appearance, interests, and abilities. In the study of what causes these differences psychologists have developed three positions. These are; the hereditary, the environmental and the Interactional positions or approaches.


  • The hereditary position

Adherents of this position believe strictly in the role played by genes in the determination of human traits. This position holds the view that it is nature and not nurture that determines the intellectual giftedness of individual children. According to this view, intellectual ability is genetically determined. Studies done by various psychologists have tended to confirm high correlations in IQ among identical twins reared apart. This view holds the belief that during fertilization when maternal and paternal genes interact, IQ is fixed. Therefore some children inherit high IQs while still others receive low gifts in this trait. This position does not acknowledge the role different environments may play in modifying intellectual ability. This position holds the view that intelligence is fixed and the child is a helpless pawn of the dictates of nature.


  • The environmental position

The second position takes the environmental approach. Adherents of this position believe that experiences provided by different environmental conditions and demands shape intelligence. Among these psychologists is the J.B. Watson, who prided himself that if he were given a dozen children and his own environments to raise them in, he would produce any kind of person. He would shape one into a beggar, another into a thief, the third into a banker and so on. This position attributes variations in intellectual ability to environmental causes. Children’s intellectual giftedness is ultimately determined by nurture not nature. This view focuses on the importance of improving environmental conditions, enriching them in order to influence intelligence positively. Those children who are raised in enriched environment have their IQ stimulated and enhanced.


  • The interactionist position

Today heredity versus environment is no longer an important question. The more important question has to do with how individuals and environments interact during development with the processes that account for intellectual change. Of special interest, is how deficits can be remedied and gifts fostered, (Lefrancois, 1994). Adherents of this position recognize that genes or nature contribute certain potentialities towards intellectual endowment but the actual determinant to what a child’s intellectual ability will be lies in the interaction between what is genetically given and the environment. This position identifies the interaction between nurture and nature as the sole determinant of intellectual ability in a child. This is a popularly held position today and we need to examine what genes contribute and what the environment contributes towards the shaping of intellectual ability.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s