Methods for Studying Child Development


1.      The Scientific Method

2.      Contexts for Gathering Data about Children

3.      Correlation and Causation

4.      Designs for Examining Development

5.      Ethical Issues in Child-Development Research


Scientific Method

      An approach to testing beliefs that involves:



Importance of Appropriate Measurement Questions of Interest



l The degree to which independent measurements of a given behavior are consistent

l Interrater reliability: The amount of agreement in the observations of different raters who witness the same behavior

l Test-retest reliability: Attained when measures of performance are similar on two or more occasions



l The degree to which a test or experiment measures what it is intended to measure

l  Internal validity: degree to which effects observed in experiment can be attributed to  variables the researcher intentionally manipulated

l Example?

l  External validity: degree to which results can be generalized beyond the particulars of the research

l Example?

Contexts for Gathering Data about Children



l  Structured interview: A research procedure in which all participants are asked to answer the same questions

l  Clinical interview: A procedure in which questions are adjusted in accord with the answers the interviewee provides


1.      .

  1. .



Naturalistic Observation

l   Used when the primary goal of research is to describe how children behave in their usual environments


l   Limitations

l  Natural contexts vary on many dimensions


l  Many behaviors occur only occasionally in everyday environments


Structured Observation

l Present an identical situation to a number of children and recording their behavior

l Strength: Enables direct comparisons across children


l Limitation

l Not about children’s subjective experiences


l Not behavior in a natural situation



Contexts for Gathering Data


Behavioral methods for infants

l  Preferential Looking

v  Requires a spontaneous preference on the part of the infant

v  Example: Visual Acuity


l  Visual Scanning and Eye Movements


l  Where the infant is looking


l  How fast the infant looks


Different Experimental Designs


Extremely important to know:


        applicable in any course you take with experimental design (including the hard sciences)


Correlational Designs


l The primary goal is to determine how


l A correlation is the association between two variables


l The direction and strength of a correlation is measured by a statistic called the correlation coefficient


Do not alter experiences…just measure two (or more) things.


l Thus, two (or more) dependent variables (DV):


l E.g. Does mothers’ interaction with children affect intelligence?


Correlation ¹ Causation!


l Direction-of-causation problem

l It is not possible to tell from a correlation


l Third-variable problem

l A correlation between two variables may arise from both


Experimental Designs


l Allow inferences about causes and effects

l Rely on random assignment, a procedure in which each child has an equal chance of being assigned to any group within an experiment


l How does change in one variable change another (measured) variable?


l Children in the experimental group                                                  , the independent variable


l Those in the control group


l The dependent variable is a behavior that is hypothesized to be affected by the independent variable



Designs for Examining Development: Cross-sectional vs. Longitudinal


l Longitudinal designs:
Used when the same children are studied twice or more over a substantial period of time



1. Can identify common patterns of development

2. Individual differences in path to maturity.


l Cross-sectional designs: Children of different ages are compared on a given behavior or characteristic over a short period of time




1.    Avoids many problems of longitudinal designs.

2.    No selective attrition or practice effects.

3.    Good for studying age-related trends.




1.   Cannot see individual differences: Think about sibling relationships over time.




Microgenetic Designs


l Used to provide an in-depth depiction of processes that produce change

l Children on the verge of an important developmental change are given experience believed to produce change

l They are studied intensely while their behavior is in transition


Ethical Issues in Research

     Researchers have a vital responsibility to anticipate potential risks that the children in their studies may encounter, to minimize such risks, and to make sure that the benefits of the research outweigh the potential harm


Research Right


Protection from harm




Informed consent








Knowledge of results




Beneficial treatments