Individual differences

Differential Psychology explores the ways in which people differ from one another, alongside their measurement, causes and consequences.

World leading work in Edinburgh focuses on a broad range of topics, including lifelong personality development, measurement and links with important life outcomes; cognitive abilities (intelligence) alongside their change (including ageing) and links with life outcomes; psychopathology; primate psychology; and positive psychology.

Research is published in prestigious journals, often in collaboration with graduate students.

The work involves a wide range of techniques, including reanalysing data from existing large databases, large-scale data collections, multinational collaborations and advanced statistical modelling. Graduate students can take part in vibrant journal clubs and join a large research community with links across many countries.

Current research topics of interest

Timothy Bates Attainment and competence: intelligence (and motivation), conscientiousness (and management), models of goals and motivation, skill acquisition, mindsets, education interventions, genetics, SAT, Scottish or other educational performance indicators and their causes; explaining differences in social policy such as support for redistribution by adaptations of mutualism/cooperation, studies in fair divisions, as well as utilitarian and instrumental harm motives,  Baumard’s notion of mutualism (using our new scale to measure this).
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 behaviour, intelligence, and personality.
Michelle Luciano Reading and language skills / dyslexia; behaviour genetics.
Rene Mottus The measurement, development and utility of narrow personality traits (personality facets and nuances); personalised personality measurement (experience sampling).
Simon Cox  Brain's structural connectome with respect to cognitive function, health, and genes
W. David Hill Genetic analysis of psychological traits using UK Biobank and other data sets: projects could include the use of polygenic risk scores, Mendelian randomisation, GWAS, and rare variant analysis; genetic analysis of socioeconomic status traits using UK Biobank and other data sets: rojects could include the use of polygenic risk scores, Mendelian randomisation, GWAS, and rare variant analysis.
Tom Booth* Individual Differences, Health & Quantitative Methods.
Aja Murray* Developmental aspects of mental health phenotypes and their comorbidity: in particular, ADHD, autism, and conduct problems; quantitative methodology.
Caroline Watt* Replication and methodological issues in parapsychology.

* Staff member is not accepting new PhD students for 2022 entry.

Recent/current PhD topics in this area

  • Human personality traits: measurement, development, genetic and environmental causes, and real-life consequences
  • Psychopathology in youth and adults (depression, autism, ADHD, dyslexia)
  • Causes and consequences of intelligence
  • Primate behaviour and personality traits
  • Positive psychology
  • Genetics
  • Ageing
  • Paranormal beliefs
  • Psychometrics


For queries about general admissions, please contact the Postgraduate Office.

To discuss academic matters, contact the Programme Director, Rene Mottus.

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Fees, funding, and how to apply