Measurement Approaches in Adult Development & Aging Research: Definition, Approaches & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definitions
  • 1:40 Systematic Observation
  • 3:10 Self-Report
  • 4:11 Representative Sampling
  • 5:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

This lesson will explore two common ways in which a researcher could measure changes in middle aged and older adults. In addition, a common tactic to ensure results are valid is also discussed.

Definitions in Research

I'm a bit of a people watcher: I like to see how they act and then see what they were thinking about when they did it. People will often surprise you in their answer, or lack of answer, about why they do certain things. But this is not a very scientific way of going about research. We're going to need something more to say that our measurements are accurate.

Let's examine two ways in which we can measure the changes that occur throughout adulthood and into later life and one way we can ensure what we're measuring is accurate. Afterwards, we will examine each one in a little more depth, including their advantages and disadvantages.

Systematic observation is a method of monitoring a group of participants while attempting to reduce bias. You watch people, but you have certain criteria set up to record only certain things and reduce the excess. More on this type of measurement in a bit.

Self-report is a method of collecting information directly from participants and then interpreting their responses. Simply put, you ask the people you are studying, and they will tell you what's going on.

Representative sampling is a method of dividing up a population and examining a smaller group that is similar to the original population. For this one, you need to know a few additional words. A population is defined as the complete collection to be studied. So, if you're studying a city, then you have to study everyone in the city. A sample is defined as a section or part of the population.

Systematic Observation

Systematic observation is a lot like watching people from behind the two-way mirror, but there is more to it than that. Don't get me wrong - you are watching people. But let's say you're trying to understand aggression in middle-aged and older-aged people. You have to come up with what you mean by aggression. Let's say, any time someone lays their hands on another person, we will label this as aggression.

With this systemic observation, we are ruling out people who yell at someone else. While this may be aggressive, we are not considering it for our study. This is an overly simplistic example, but it helps illustrate the point that a researcher is setting up a system in which they only count certain actions that meet criteria. This helps reduce interference in the data sampling.

A benefit of systemic observation is that it is very easy to record incidences. When there is a clear-cut definition, then anyone observing the participants would likely agree. It is difficult to argue 'that person didn't put their hands on that other person.' A negative, though, is that if a definition is overly specific or too broad, then you will screw up your recordings. For instance, our aggression example focuses only when someone puts their hands on someone else; this misses out on aggressive words and also what happens when someone strikes another person with an object.


Self-reporting is often done when the topic is not very embarrassing or people can be trusted to give a good answer. If I ask you how many times you've hit someone in the last week, you'd probably tell me. If I asked you how many times you angrily cussed someone out in your head, you probably wouldn't tell me (or you would lie!). Self-report is simply just asking people to tell you the information you need.

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