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.
Types of ResearchThere are a number of different ways to conduct psychological research. The two major types of research are:
- 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.
- 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.
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, questionnaires, and experimentation.
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.
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.
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.
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.