Amanda Sheffield Morris, Lara R. Robinson, and Nancy Eisenberg
Methodological approaches to the study of developmental psychology vary as much as the processes that developmental scientists choose to research. There are strengths and weaknesses of each methodological approach, and like the measurement of many constructs in the discipline more broadly, multiple methods of assessment provide the most complete information. There are four primary ways in which researchers measure most constructs in developmental psychology: self-report, other informants (parent, teacher, or peer), observational methods, and physiological-biological measures. Experimental laboratory studies also are used to study development, particularly cognitive development, but they are less commonly used to study socioemotional development. Because of limited space, our expertise in socioemotional development, and the fact that experimental procedures are discussed in the chapter on social psychology (see Smith & Harris, chap. 26, this volume), we choose to focus on social and emotional development in this chapter and provide only a brief discussion of experimental methods (for examples of experimental methods in cognitive development, see Damon, Kuhn, & Siegler, 1998).
In addition to different methodologies used to study developmental psychology, developmental science requires the use of a variety of designs to adequately study development across the life span, influences on growth and development, and change over time. Developmental psychologists use longitudinal designs to examine the same individual over time, cross-sectional designs to examine the same construct at one point in time using a sample with predefined age groups or cohorts, and sequential designs (also called an accelerated longitudinal design) in which a combination of a longitudinal and cross-sectional design is used, following several age groups over a shorter period of time.
This chapter is structured around a discussion of each of these methods and designs. For each approach we discuss strengths and weaknesses and reliability and validity issues. We also illustrate how each method and design can be used by describing research conducted using that method with a particular construct often studied in socioemotional development. In addition, we discuss the use of different statistical techniques when particularly appropriate to a design or method. In the final section of the chapter, we provide examples of research using a multimethod approach and briefly discuss ideas for planning a multimethod study.
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