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Individuality & Its Roots - EDU00078M

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  • Department: Education
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Kathryn Asbury
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

This module aims to build students’ knowledge and understanding of how and why individuals vary in their cognitive ability, personality, motivation and interests. The module begins by introducing students to what is currently known about biological bases of behaviour such as the brain and the genome. Once sufficient biological knowledge has been established, students will discuss the relevance of behavioural genetics and neuroscience to psychology and education, exploring recent studies and debates in these fields.

In the second half of term students will engage with the differential psychology literature and will be supported in developing their knowledge and understanding of psychological constructs such as intelligence and personality. They will be exposed to, and engage with, the many debates that exist around the definition and measurement of such constructs. The knowledge acquired during this module will be used as a base for exploring the importance of individual differences in educational contexts.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

By the end of this module students will have developed:

  • Broad knowledge, and a nuanced understanding, of key theories and empirical research in biological psychology.
  • Confidence in their capacity to explain what is known about biological and environmental influences on human traits and behaviours.
  • Ability to identify key structures of the brain and genome, and awareness of new developments in these areas.
  • A knowledge base that will allow them to explore and debate the key features of educational neuroscience and behavioural genetics, and their implications.
  • Broad knowledge, and a nuanced understanding, of key theories and research in individual differences psychology.
  • Knowledge and skills necessary to consider and question theories and measures of intelligence, personality, motivation and interests.
  • Confidence to discuss the relevance of individual differences theories to education, with reference to a range of theoretical and empirical evidence.

Academic and graduate skills

Students will learn how to:

  • Formulate and present a persuasive, articulate academic argument that is well supported and well structured.
  • Synthesise research and theory from biological, behavioural and social science literature.
  • Critically evaluate research for reliability and validity, and explore implications for education.
  • Discuss, with reference to evidence, the ethics of applying genetic and neuroscientific research to education.

Module content

The module content is structured so that it incrementally builds up students’ knowledge of biological and differential psychology to the extent that they will be in a strong position to consider their relevance to education by the end of the module.

Students will be taught in weekly 2 hour lectures. The following outline is representative of the lectures that will be given but may be subject to small changes.

Session 1 – What are biological and differential psychology? An overview.

  • Biological bases of behaviour at biochemical, cellular, physiological, genetic/genomic and evolutionary levels
  • The nature of differential psychology
  • Biological approaches to studying psychological phenomena and to intervention and treatment (contextual example: Ritalin and ADHD)

Session 2 – What is personality?

  • Evolution
  • Genetic and environmental influences
  • Measurement and psychological testing

Session 3 – What is intelligence?

  • Measurement and psychological testing
  • Genetic and environmental influences on variation
  • Group differences in intelligence (sex, race and SES) and the ethical implications of group differences research in this area

Session 4 – Individual differences in mental health and wellbeing

  • Defining mental illness (social, biological and diagnostic perspectives).
  • Genetic and environmental influences on mental health and mental illness – relationship between biological versus social attributions and stigma.
  • Positive psychology and flourishing

Session 5 – Individual differences in mood and motivation

  • Trait and state approaches to motivation and emotions.
  • Motivational constructs (e.g. self-efficacy, self-concept and interest) as predictors of achievement and wellbeing.

We will use a flipped classroom approach to deliver the material covered in this module. This will involve students engaging with substantial preparatory material prior to their lectures, including pre-reading, narrated power points, blogs and online discussions. Students will then be able to engage with the material at a more advanced level during class discussion, with the support of their lecturers, and to carry out practical activities e.g. dissection, guided microscopy work and the taking, administration and interpretation of personality and intelligence tests.

Session 6 – Introduction to neuroscience

  • Neuroanatomy – neurones and brains, relating structures to functions
  • Electrical and chemical transmission, neurotransmitters and hormones (contextual example: stress)

Session 7 – Neuropsychology and neuroimaging

  • Lessons from brain-injured patients (contextual example: understanding numeracy)
  • A critical focus on neuroimaging
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Session 8 – Biological Influences in Adolescence

  • Puberty
  • Neuroplasticity (contextual example: social development)
  • Sleep (contextual example: school start times)

Session 9 – Introduction to the genome – its influence and its evolution

  • Introducing the structure and function of the genome
  • Heritability, twin studies and the nature-nurture debate
  • Introductory socio-biology and evolutionary psychology (contextual example: social interaction and theory of mind)


Task Length % of module mark
University - closed examination
Individuality & its Roots
2 hours 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
University - closed examination
Individuality & its Roots
2 hours 100

Module feedback

Written feedback on exam and face to face feedback in supervision meetings. The feedback is returned to students in line with university policy. Please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information

Indicative reading

Chamorro-Premuzic (2014). Personality and Individual Differences, 2nd edition. (BPS Textbooks in Psychology). John Wiley & Sons.

Blakemore, S.J. & Frith, U. (2005). The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education. Wiley-Blackwell.

Mareschal, D., Butterworth, B., & Tolmie, A. (Eds.). (2013). Educational neuroscience. John Wiley & Sons.

Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., Knopik, V. S., & Neiderheiser, J. (2013). Behavioral genetics. Worth Publishers.

Asbury, K. & Plomin, R. (2013). G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education. Wiley-Blackwell.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.