Cross-Sectional Research: Definition & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Cross-sectional research is used to examine one variable in different groups that are similar in all other characteristics. Learn more about cross-sectional research in this lesson and test your knowledge with a quiz at the end.

Definition of Cross-Sectional Research

If you wanted to know if the percentage of women diagnosed with breast cancer increases with age, how would you go about answering this question? One way you could find the answer is to look at three groups of women who are similar but of different ages. Let's say your three age groups are 20-35 years, 36-50 years, and 51-65 years. You can then calculate the percentage of women in each group that have been diagnosed with breast cancer. This information can then be used to answer your question.

This is an example of cross-sectional research. Cross-sectional research involves using different groups of people who differ in the variable of interest but share other characteristics, such as socioeconomic status, educational background, and ethnicity.

In the example above, the variable of interest was age because you wanted to see if any changes were noticed in groups of different ages. By looking at similar women in different age groups, you can assume that any differences between groups can be attributed to age difference rather than another factor.


Cross-Sectional Research

Cross-sectional research studies are based on observations that take place in different groups at one time. This means there is no experimental procedure, so no variables are manipulated by the researcher. Instead of performing an experiment, you would simply record the information that you observe in the groups you are examining. Because of this, a cross-sectional research study can be used to describe the characteristics that exist in a group, but it cannot be used to determine any relationship that may exist. This method is used to gather information only. The information may then be used to develop other methods to investigate the relationship that is observed.

Let's use the previous example to understand how this works. In the cross-sectional study to examine if there are different percentages of women diagnosed with breast cancer at different ages, you find out that the percentages are higher as the age group increases. This information does not tell you why breast cancer diagnosis increases with age, only that it does. If you combine this information with other research, you could use it to develop a hypothesis about why breast cancer diagnosis increases with age. You would then need to use other research methods to test your idea.

Cross-sectional research studies all have the following characteristics:

  • Takes place at a single point in time
  • Variables are not manipulated by researchers
  • Provide information only; do not answer why

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