MSc Psychology of Individual Differences

Develop an in-depth understanding of personality, ability, and positive psychology

Crowd of people walking through a street


An exciting opportunity to gain skills in the two key subdivisions in the study of human individual differences: personality and mental abilities. This includes factors related to life-course attainment, health, and positive psychology. We focus on leading-edge research in these fields, as well as modern methods of study including multivariate statistics, psychometrics, and behaviour genetics.

Why are some people more productive than others? Or have closer relationship? Does mindset determine cognitive development? Are we at the mercy of situations or do we bring positive resources to them? What is motivation, or will power, or grit? How do children learn best when confronting new or difficult material? Is personality affected by genes? Does personality influence psychopathology? How do genes and environments interact in our lives?

Many of the most important questions surrounding the human condition revolve around individual differences. In this course you will learn how individuals differ, how these differences develop and whether and how they can be changed. You will also learn how these differences impact our daily lives and shape the societies in which we live.

Programme content and structure

Full programme structure

The 120 credit programme comprises core courses and optional courses. The core courses assure you have specialist knowledge in personality and reasoning, as well as a sound footing in methodology. Choose the optional courses that suit you - you will have an opportunity to discuss in person which options best serve your needs in the first weeks of the course.

The major project of the degree is a dissertation (60 credits). Here you hone your empirical research skills, in a significant project, developed over the year in collaboration with your supervisor, and with a focus on the thesis over the summer. Several of these have led to publications.

Learning outcomes and careers

A strength of the programme is its flexibility: we can accommodate almost any choice of external subjects, take students from a diverse range of backgrounds, and you have a high level of control and choice over the specific topics in which you specialise. All of this occurs alongside professors with global reputations for leadership in the field: Among our staff are presidents of international societies, journal editors, and all staff have a track-record of high-impact and prestigious scholarly work.

Within this flexible framework, and alongside engaged staff and fellow students, you will develop in-depth knowledge, analytic and presentation skills, absorbing and engaging with cutting edge ideas.

From this strong base, our students have gone on to PhDs and professorships, but also into work in overseas labs, as well as returning to industry (for instance consulting, teaching). Students have often published their thesis, or made a difference in diverse theoretical and applied settings, from depression, to childhood education, to the genetics of depression; from rationality to group problem-solving.

This programme will suit students who want to have a well-grounded knowledge of the psychology of individual differences that they can carry with them into applied settings in business or industry, as well as those intending to pursue a research career.

Who is this programme for?

The MSc is designed to be accessible to students who have a degree in psychology or a related discipline. Prior experience of the psychology of individual differences is valuable. Other experience may compensate for a lack of prior specialist training. Evidence of quantitative/statistical knowledge is highly desirable. Interested candidates with other backgrounds are encouraged to contact the programme director in the first instance.

Why study individual differences at Edinburgh?

  • Home to the largest team of specialist individual differences researchers in the world. Our staff are leaders in their fields, and will share this expertise, helping you develop in-depth understanding of current research issues, research and methodology in the psychology of individuals.
  • Focus on replicable science. We teach and foster skills in formulating research questions, applying appropriate research methods. As you increase your understanding of individual differences in human personality and human mental abilities, you will also develop world-class analytic skills.
  • Exposure to advances in personality science, much of it based in teams collaborating with Edinburgh. You will learn about seminal findings and recent updates relating to the study of human individual differences and the ways in which individual differences are currently being studied or applied.
  • Skills in research management. Including managing data and disseminating research in ways consistent with professional practice in the field of individual differences and the normal principles of research ethics.

Teaching and assessment

The MSc Psychology of Individual Differences allows students to follow a wide programme of courses designed with specialist options in subjects of your choice. These are typically assessed by the submission of coursework; this is followed by a dissertation.

Facilities and resources

Students have study space, access to world-class libraries, laboratory space with computers for testing, a test-library, and large cohort datasets.

Student support

In addition to the student support offered to all students in the school of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, your Programme Director or Supervisor will be able to provide you with academic advice and guidance specific to your programme of study.

Staff profiles

    Research interests
Timothy Bates

Professor Tim Bates

Programme director

Genetics, Cognitive epidemiology, Cognitive potential, Personality, Group behavior, Dyslexia, Language impairment.
Tom Booth
Dr Tom Booth Individual Differences, Health & Quantitative Methods.
Ian Deary
Professor Ian Deary Human intelligence differences. Cognitive ageing. Cognitive epidemiology. Personality traits. Medically unexplained symptoms. General psychometric research.
Catharine Gale
Professor Catharine Gale The relationship between cognitive function and later health outcomes, the role of positive or negative wellbeing in later health outcomes, and lifecourse influences on frailty in older people.
Wendy Johnson
Professor Wendy Johnson Individual differences: structure of intelligence and personality, life-span development of intelligence and personality, health and aging, genetic and environmental transactions and their influence on behavior, intelligence, and personality.
Michelle Luciano
Dr Michelle Luciano Environmental and genetic factors contributing to cognition, personality and mood.
Rene Mottus
Dr Rene Mottus Personality development in childhood and later life, computational modelling of person-environment transactions, within-individual variability of personality and its associations with situational circumstances and specific behaviours, and psychometrics.
Caroline Watt photo
Professor Caroline Watt Replication and methodological issues in parapsychology.
Alexander Weiss
Dr Alexander Weiss Personality and subjective well-being in humans, nonhuman primates, and other animals; the evolution of personality and subjective well-being; aging and development; behavior genetics; differential epidemiology; quantitative methods.

Find out more

Fees, funding and how to apply