Research Methods in Developmental Psychology

Developmental research methods
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How do researchers study human development? People grow and change tremendously from birth through the end of life, and researchers study all aspects of development including physical, cognitive, emotional and social growth.

As with most research, the study of developmental psychology begins with a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a testable statement that reflects what the researcher expects to find in a study.

For example, a study on gender and learning disabilities might begin with a hypothesis that one gender will be more impacted by learning disorders.

The goal of research is to analyze the area of interest, collect information and data about topic, draw conclusions based upon this research and data and then add or expand upon previously existing theories of development.

Let's take a closer look at some of the research methods that psychologists might use to investigate different aspects of human development.

Types of Developmental Research

There are a number of different ways to conduct psychological research. A few major types of research include:

1. Cross-sectional Research

Cross-sectional research involves looking at different groups of people of different ages. For example, a researcher might measure or observe a group of young adults and compare this data with information gathered about a group of elderly participants.

The benefit of this type of research is that it can be done relatively quickly; the research data is all gathered at the same point in time. However, because data is gathered from generations of people who share the same cultural experiences, these shared events may play a role in development. This makes it difficult to determine if something is caused by experience or the aging process.

2. Longitudinal Research

Longitudinal research involves studying the same group of individuals over an extended period of time. Data is first collected at the outset of the study, and may then be gathered repeatedly throughout the length of the study. In some cases, longitudinal studies can last several decades.

The benefit of this type of research is that it allows researchers to look at changes over time. However, longitudinal studies require enormous amounts of time and are often quite expensive. Because of this, these studies often have only a small group of subjects, which makes it difficult to apply the results to a larger population. Another problem is that participants sometimes drop out of the study, shrinking the sample size and decreasing the amount of data collected.

3. Correlational Research

Correlational research is aimed at determining if changes in a variable lead to changes in another variable. In this type of study, researchers are able to look at relationships between variables, but they do not have control over the variables themselves. For example, researchers might be interested in looking at whether early academic success leads to better grades later on in high school and college.

While the researchers can collect data and look at the variables, they do not actually manipulate any of the variables in question. Finally, it is important to note that while correlational research can be used to find relationships, it does not necessarily equate with causation. Just because two or more variables have a relationship does not necessarily mean that changes in one cause changes in the other.

4. Experimentation

Experiments involve the manipulation and measurement of variables. This research method is the most scientific, but it can be difficult to use if the variables of interest are abstract or internal concepts.

Another problem is that some variables of interest cannot be studied through experimentation for ethical reasons. Examples of this would be research on the effects of child abuse on development.

Data Collection

Once it has been decided which type of research to use, the next step is to determine how the information will be gathered. There are a number of different research methods that are used in the study of developmental psychology, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Some common approaches include observation, case studies and questionnaires.

1. Observation

There are two different types of observation. The first involves viewing the subject of interest in a laboratory setting. The benefit of this is that the situation can be controlled by the experimental. The drawbacks of lab observation are that the setting can be unnatural and the subject is aware that they are being studied. Both of these factors can have an impact on results of the study.

Naturalistic observation allows researchers to observe participants in real-world settings. The strength of this method is that it allows researchers to view behavior as it really happens in a natural setting. The drawback is that the researcher cannot control outside variables that might impact behavior.

2. Case Studies

A case study is an in-depth analysis of a particular individual. While this research method provides a great deal of information about a specific person, the results are often difficult to generalize to larger populations. For this reason, case studies are most often used in clinical research or other cases where certain aspects of the subject's life cannot be reproduced or duplicated.

3. Questionnaires

Questionnaires offer researchers a quick, easy way to collect a great deal of information. One weakness of this method is that it reduces variety, creativity, and individuality of responses. In cases where the subject is unable to fill out a questionnaire, with very young children for example, questions are often posed through a structured interview.

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