Longitudinal Research: Definition & Methods

Longitudinal research is used to study individuals at different stages in their lives. One group is studied over many years. Learn more about longitudinal research through examples and test your knowledge with quiz questions.
Have you ever wondered how developmental psychologists study changes over a lifespan? How do children's career aspirations develop over time? How does divorce affect children? How stable is personality? When do developmentally delayed children receiving special services catch up with their peers, if they do? What are the physical and mental health consequences of being in a war zone? Longitudinal research can answer those questions and more.

Psychologists try to provide answers to these questions using correlational research, which does not establish cause and effect, but only a relationship between two factors. A longitudinal study is correlational research which follows one group of individuals over a long period of time, perhaps decades. Researchers must evaluate the subjects at a minimum of two different time periods so they can be compared. Frequently, researchers meet with the subjects many times on a regular basis, for example every two months or every five years. The length of time is dependent on the topic of the research, the length of the study, and the age of the subjects.


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