Individual difference as a topic in psychology is concerned with understanding the reasons and extent to which people’s personality differs. The major areas of study under differential psychology are the personality and intelligence. Individual differences factors therefore describe the causes, nature and the psychological differences among various individuals. The differences are measured/ determined by employing the psychometric tests. Intelligence is defined as the ability of a person to act with purpose, thinking rationally and to deal exclusively with his or her environment (Miller, Galanter & Pribram, 1960).  In other words we can simply say that it is the ability to learn. Psychology can in essence be described as the mental attribute of a person (Rietti, 2008). There are many different theories regarding intelligence. Daniel Goleman came up with the theory of multiple intelligences in a human being raging from Kinesthetic, emotional, musical and bodily intelligence. The main focus of this paper is based on Information processing theory and its effects to individuality.














Information processing theory attempts to explain human psychology in comparison to computational metaphors. According to this theory, human brain is liked to the computer hardware while the mind is likened to the software. In general terms, the information processing theory involves the process of perception, encoding, decoding, acquisition, retention, and retrieval of information by human intellectual system (Gardner, 1985). In other words, it is the ability of an individual to derive sense out of perceptual and symbolic environment around them. According to psychometric tests, and even by observation, individuals differ in information processing. Psychologists therefore link specific patterns of human behavior and thought to different aspects of information processing. Individual differences in information processing therefore explain and show the variability in people (Miller, 2001).

In all the attempts to explain the process of learning, information processing theory has become the most popular of the theories. According to psychologists, learning in a person involves the change in that individual’s mental structures such that a capacity is created to demonstrate various behaviors. This theory examines very closely how environmental stimulation goes through the process of attention before the stimulation is perceived and stored in a series of distinct memories (Paivio, 1990).

Information processing theory focuses on three memory stores that helps in cognitive processes; the sensory memory, the working memory and the long term memory. The working relationship and interdependence of the sensory stores was likened by Professor Richard Hall (Missouri University) to a computer that stores information and then processes it with the help of its RAM. Of these memory stores, the sensory memory is the first one to receive information. The sensory memory store has unlimited capacity for storage but also has limited power to retain information. For this reason, the sensory memory can only retain information for about four seconds after which it is either transferred to working memory or lost (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956).

The importance of the sensory memory is that it gathers new information and prepares the system to attach meaning to this new information. The information can either be given attention and retained or dismissed as a distraction. If the information is retained, it catches the learner’s attention. This attention stage according to many cognitive psychologists is the stage at which learning begins. Once the attention phase is captured, the learner records the information as important and therefore the learner’s perception of stimulus is developed.  Learner’s perception of the stimulus is an important phase in sensory memory as it determines how this learner will understand the information in the working memory (Eggen & Kaunchak, 2007).


Many psychologists have tried to relate the need to keep information accessible for some intervals with the learner’s ability to perform these tasks. Badly and Hitch (1974) argued that some memory systems can simultaneously manipulate the contents of the memory while updating the information in the memory to achieve some given tasks. The functional nature of the intellectual system is apparent where the learner needs to maintain some given information for short-term period in diverse tasks. Such a system may require higher order cognitive processes like reading and reasoning. This has pushed the researchers to conclude that individual variation in intellectual reasoning is related to the performance of other cognitive tasks.

In Daneman and Carpenter’s work (1980), researchers have attempted to find the aspects of the working memory model by checking the ID in working memory and the relation they have to higher order cognition. In this research, participants were made to read a series of sentences then they were later to recall the last word of each sentence.  The activity in this way required the participants to store information (short-term) while engaging in reading (processing activity) at the same time. The idea was to measure the working memory system that is responsible for complex behavior. The participants in this case are expected to remember the items without engaging the secondary processing task. Variation in the vocabulary storage tested was therefore linked to the working memory capacity of various individuals.

It should be noted that some simple activities that the people engage in daily do not require working memory to accomplish. A good example is one who drives to office every morning using some specific route. After months of driving through this same route, she does not need to strain thinking what lane to take or at what point does she need to make a turn. This means that the routines can be remembered effortlessly; hence she can even talk on phone as she drives through this route. In case she take a different route, she may need to be keen hence little distraction is needed while driving. In other words, the working memory is required in driving through the new route to register this new information into the intellectual system (Eggen & Kaunchak, 2007).


People often display inconsistent intellectual performances in different occasions as evaluated by different criteria. The common areas where individuals differ include the ability to adapt to the environment effectively, the ability to engage in various forms of reasoning, ability to understand complex ideas, and their ability to learn from experience. These areas are pegged with the level of intelligence of the individual. Intelligence entails the cognitive ability of a person. People with low cognitive ability and hence low intelligence quotient will display a below-average performance in all the areas mentioned above (Mayer, 1996).

Information processing theory states that the intellectual ability of an individual depends on the intelligence quotient. Intelligence quotient is a general intelligence factor which determines the speed of mental processing. For instance, given two words and one is required to identify whether they mean similar things. The first step involves reading the first word after which one retrieves meaning and stores the meaning in the working memory, the person will then need to repeat the same procedure for the second word and evaluate whether the two means the same thing. The duration that this process takes is the basis of individual differences (Miller, 2001). According to the information processing theory, there are two levels of information processing; low order processing (performance) and the high order processing (planning of strategy). People with high intelligence quotient are deemed to perform well in solving of problems that require high order thinking. On the other hand, people with low order processing experiences lots of difficulties while dealing with complex ideas. They often tend to drift away from the context and lose meaning.

Information processing speed also determines how an individual acquires, retains, and disseminates knowledge. People often differ in their ability to encode and decode information. A person with high intelligence quotient tends to acquires knowledge at a faster rate and disseminates it quickly. This is because the intellectual ability is high and therefore they can process information at a faster rate. The case is not similar with people of low intelligence quotient since their speed of processing information is relatively low. In other words, a person with low intellectual capacity will take a long time to conceptualize and determine a problem from a range of issues presented before them (Mayer, 1996).


The computational approach though is dependent on the success of the given program in solving the tasks. In regression models of testing and evaluation of intelligence, individual differences are reflected by the number of problems they solve rightly. This kind of test for intelligence is also dependent on the speed of the participants. The assumption here is that total response time is just the time required to perform the hypothesized tasks. Another information processing theory related test is the rule space analysis. This is mostly for diagnosing errors in intellectual system that involves combination of many skills.

















Eggen P. & Kauchak, D. (2007). Educational Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers. Pgs. 202-227.

Gardner, H. (1985). Cognitive Revolution. New York, NY; Basic Books Publishing.

Mayer, R.E. (1996). Information Processors. Educational Psychologist. Vol. 31 No.3. Pgs. 151-161.

Miller, P.H. (2001). Theories of Developmental Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers. Pgs. 217-223.

Paivio, A. (1990). A Dual Coding Approach to Mental Representations. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.