Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 October 2009
Interest in as well as understanding and acceptance of behavioral genetics are often hindered by a single issue: confusion between individual differences and group differences. That is, behavioral genetic theory and research address individual differences (variance), whereas most psychological research involves group comparisons (means). In this chapter, we contrast these two approaches and then discuss the advantages and disadvantages of an individual-differences perspective. In part, the relative neglect of an individual-differences approach is due to its apparent atheoretical orientation. For this reason, the next chapter considers quantitative genetics as the basis for a general theory of the origins of individual differences.
The group-differences approach focuses on average differences, such as gender, age, cultural, or species differences, among groups of individuals within a population. In contrast, the etiology of differences among individuals in a population is the focus of individual-differences research. The point of this chapter is not that the individual-differences approach is better than the group-differences approach. The two approaches are perspectives, and perspectives are neither right nor wrong, only more or less useful for a particular purpose. However, we do argue that the two approaches differ in important ways that affect theories and research. In the following section, the basic distinction between the two approaches is examined more closely.