6 Developmental Research Designs

Anne Baird

These designs examine what changes and what stays the same in a human life. Chronological age, cohort membership, and time of measurement are the basic elements of research designs looking at development. The frustrating thing about doing this kind of research is that you only can vary two of these three elements at a time. The two that you choose will determine the third element.  Therefore no single study can definitively tell you about how human beings develop. However, combining results of multiple  studies and using more complex designs, such as cross-sequential designs, can help us get closer to the truth.

Cross-sectional research involves beginning with a sample that represents a cross-section of the population. Respondents who vary in age, gender, ethnicity, and social class might be asked to complete a survey about television program preferences or attitudes toward the use of the Internet. The attitudes of males and females could then be compared as could attitudes based on age. In cross-sectional research, respondents are measured only once. This method is much less expensive than longitudinal research but does not allow the researcher to distinguish between the impact of age and the cohort effect. Different attitudes about the Internet, for example, might not be altered by a person’s biological age as much as their life experiences as members of a cohort.

Longitudinal research involves beginning with a group of people who may be of the same age and background, and measuring them repeatedly over a long period of time. One of the benefits of this type of research is that people can be followed through time and be compared with them when they were younger. A problem with this type of research is that it is very expensive and subjects may drop out over time. (The film 49 Up is a example of following individuals over time. You see how people change physically, emotionally, and socially through time.) What would be the drawbacks of being in a longitudinal study? What about 49 Up? Would you want to be filmed every 7 years? What would be the advantages and disadvantages? Can you imagine why some would continue and others drop out of the project?

Cross-sequential research involves combining aspects of the previous two techniques; beginning with a cross-sectional sample and measuring them through time. This is the perfect model for looking at age, gender, social class, and ethnicity. But here the drawbacks of high costs and attrition are here as well.



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