Individual Differences: Case Studies of Rodent and Primate Intelligence

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Abstract

Early in the 20th century, individual differences were a central focus of psychologists. By the end of that century, studies of individual differences had become far less common, and attention to these differences played little role in the development of contemporary theory. To illustrate the important role of individual differences, here we consider variations in intelligence as a compelling example. General intelligence (g) has now been demonstrated in at least 2 distinct genera: primates (including humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and tamarins) and rodents (mice and rats). The expression of general intelligence varies widely across individuals within a species; these variations have tremendous functional consequence, and are attributable to interactions of genes and environment. Here we provide evidence for these assertions, describe the processes that contribute to variations in general intelligence, as well as the methods that underlie the analysis of individual differences. We conclude by describing why consideration of individual differences is critical to our understanding of learning, cognition, and behavior, and illustrate how attention to individual differences can contribute to more effective administration of therapeutic strategies for psychological disorders.

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