What is Developmental Research? - Definition, Purpose & Methods Video

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  • 0:05 Developmental Research
  • 1:37 Methodology
  • 2:42 Cross-Sectional
  • 3:46 Longitudinal
  • 5:01 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 explores the basics of developmental research. Explore how cross-sectional and longitudinal studies can help researchers study the changes that occur as we age.

Developmental Research

Let's look at a baby. A baby doesn't really do much, doesn't seem to think much, and can be really kind of boring to study on its own. A toddler is a little more interesting. It can talk, walk, and interact with its environment. You can begin to assess some of the cognitive developments occurring. Kids in elementary school develop quickly, and their skills grow exponentially. Take a moment to consider the differences between the different developmental periods. How is a child cognitively different than an adult? How is a teenager emotionally different than an elderly person? This continuum is the span of human development.

Developmental research is a study focused on the progressive changes that occur as an organism develops. There isn't any way to reverse the changes that happen when you grow up. You can't take an older person and hit the reset button to revert them back to childhood to see how raising them in a different time will change who they are. It'd be nice, but unfortunately we are stuck experiencing time in one direction.

As we just discussed, there are magnitudes of difference between a few years of growth. When looking at individuals along this continuum, a researcher wants to know what changes occur. A scientist is not satisfied knowing 'things are different.' A researcher wants to know 'what is different?'


How does a researcher go about and study the changes? The two primary ways are cross-sectional and longitudinal, which we will more thoroughly explore in other lessons.

Before we get into examples on how this is done, we first need to have something to study. It sort of makes sense, and I'm sorry I had to put it in, but it's where we have to start. Let's look at how self-inhibition develops across a spectrum.

So, we are going to look at self-inhibition, or the ability to tell yourself, 'No!' We need to figure out how we're going to study it. Well, I'm eating chocolate chips right now, so let's say we put a bowl of chocolate chips in front of our participants and instruct them not to eat them.

Lastly, we need to figure out what age we are going to look at. Babies aren't really going to be useful in this experiment, so we won't use them. So, the youngest age we will look at is toddlers. And since we want to know about development until adulthood, we will take everyone up to adulthood. We will be using toddlers, kids, and teens.


Cross-sectional studies are defined as comparing and contrasting samples of different age groups to determine what difference occurs in each age group. In our example of studying inhibition, we will collect participants from each age group. So, we will have a group of children acting as representatives of their age group. Below is how I will divide them; you could very easily do something different.

  • Age 2 to 2.9
  • Age 3 to 4.9
  • Age 5 to 9.9
  • Age 10 to 14.9
  • Age 15 to 20

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