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Longitudinal Research

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Longitudinal Research

When conducting research, you may want to find out how something develops over several years. How does an occurrence that happens in childhood affect the person in adulthood? For example, many pharmaceutical companies are interested in assessing how their drugs affect people in the long term, and this is where longitudinal research comes in.

Longitudinal research is a type of research used when researchers want to test the same participants for a long time. This method usually collects data from participants at regular intervals throughout the research.

Longitudinal Research Calendar StudySmarterCalendar, Flaticon

The Importance of Longitudinal Research in Psychology

The importance of longitudinal research in psychology is that it can help researchers:

  • See the long-term effects of things such as medication and intervention

  • Learn about the order of events that happen over time

  • Recognise changes that occur over time.

This process can then reveal interesting results about their measuring conditions and help them in future research endeavours.

Longitudinal Research Study

There are different types of longitudinal research.

Cohort study

What is a cohort study in research?

A cohort study is a form of longitudinal research that investigates a group of people who share common characteristics for a long time.

There are two forms of longitudinal cohort research:

  1. Retrospective study participants investigated have already been exposed to or experienced the phenomena the research is investigating in.

    An example of a longitudinal cohort retrospective study is that it could be investigating the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol and later alcohol dependency.

  2. Prospective study participants have not experienced the phenomena or outcome but may be vulnerable in some cases to the thing being studied. The researchers’ design and start the experiment before identifying what they expect to find. This research design could record outcomes in a group with common characteristics.

    The 1970 British Cohort Study is an example of a longitudinal cohort prospective study.

Panel Study

What is a panel study in longitudinal research?

A panel study is a form of longitudinal research that investigates a group of people over a long time. The difference between cohort and panel studies is that panel longitudinal research attempts to obtain a generalisable sample to the broader population.

Group Longitudinal Panel Cohort StudySmarterGroup of people, Flaticon

Longitudinal Research Design

The steps that researchers need to carry out to use a longitudinal research design are:

  1. Identify the phenomena that the researcher is interested in

    • The long-term effects of something or long-term changes in certain aspects of a person, such as traits and illness.

      The researchers will recruit participants for the longitudinal research based on this information.

  2. Researchers need to decide how and what type of data they will be collecting, which is influenced by what approach the longitudinal research takes:

    • Prospective research collects information on something the researcher expects to happen.

    • Retrospective research collects information on something that has already happened.

      After this has been identified, the researcher needs to identify the data collection methods they will use. In addition to how frequent and at what timepoints this data will be collected.

      The time frame used is the research schedule.

      An example of longitudinal research may investigate the effects of maternal deprivation on later relationships. The hypothetical aim of the research is to identify if the negative effects of maternal deprivation are long-lasting over time. The researchers may decide to collect data from questionnaires, interviews, and psychometric tests from all participants every two years over ten years.

      To ensure that the research is valid, the researchers need to ensure that they use the same, planned data collection methods and follow the same protocol each time they collect data. They need to record all of the collected data from the research needs.

      This process prevents bias in the report as this can affect the validity of the results.

  3. The final stage of the longitudinal research is the analysis and the reporting of the results found. The analysis method used depends on what data collection methods the researcher employed.

Longitudinal Research Example in Psychology

A longitudinal research example in psychology is the 1970 British Cohort Study. The study initially started by recruiting over 17,000 babies born in the same week in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The study collected data from participants of different ages throughout their lives.

The study aims to identify factors such as policing, individual differences, and mental health and the long-term effects of these across the lifespan. It provided vital information on social mobility, education and opportunities, training, and employment.

This study has used a series of methods to collect data, such as:

  • Face-to-face interviews (including parent interviews)

  • Self-completion questionnaires

  • Cognitive assessments

  • Medical examinations

  • Psychological tests

  • Collecting information concerning educational information.

    The study used primary and secondary sources to collect data.

From this research, psychologists can learn about the long-term effects that certain traits, illnesses or experiences can have. Researchers can use this to identify what factors should be investigated in experimental conditions.

Suppose a longitudinal cohort study identifies that people living in a certain area have lower IQ scores than others. In that case, further investigation may be done if policies in that region are causing inequality in access to education and achievements.

United Kingdom Longitudinal StudySmarterUnited Kingdom, Flaticon

What are the longitudinal Research Strengths and Weaknesses?

Let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses of longitudinal research.

Strengths of Longitudinal Research

  • Allows researchers to identify how time affects a phenomenon, specifically ones that affect important social variables such as the economy, education, and general welfare.

    For example, researchers can identify whether the quality of attachments formed with a primary caregiver affects later relationships or determine if the effects of pharmacology alongside cognitive behavioural therapy provide long-lasting results to treat depression.

  • Longitudinal studies collect data from several time points and do not rely on people recalling information. There is less likelihood of recall bias affecting the results, increasing the validity of findings.

  • Longitudinal studies are large-scale studies. Researchers can identify many variables that may affect the subject that the researcher is interested in. Therefore, longitudinal research provides detailed information about a phenomenon.

  • Findings from longitudinal factors can help researchers identify what phenomenons need to be tested empirically in experimental conditions to learn more about the causes.

Weaknesses of Longitudinal Research

  • As it is a time-consuming type of research, it is often quite costly and difficult because it uses multiple methods to collect data.

  • Researchers need to recruit a large sample when conducting longitudinal research. If this is not done, it is difficult to infer that patterns and findings of results are meaningful, leading to non-generalisable results.

  • As the research takes over a long period, participants are more likely to drop out. When this happens, it is difficult to compare the results across the study time points, affecting the reliability and the validity of the study.


Longitudinal Research - Key Takeaways

  • Longitudinal research is a type of research used when researchers want to test the same participants for a long time. This method usually collects data from participants at regular intervals throughout the research.
  • The importance of longitudinal research in psychology is that it can help researchers see the long-term effects of medication and intervention, learn about the order of events that happen over time, and recognise changes that occur over time.
  • They are different types of longitudinal research: a Cohort study and a Panel study.
  • The strengths of longitudinal research are there is less likelihood of recall bias affecting the study results. It can also provide detailed information that may not be able to be found in a short time. It also can help researchers identify what they should research and investigate further. It has economic and social benefits.
  • The weaknesses of longitudinal research are that it is time-consuming and expensive, a large sample is needed for the findings to be meaningful, and there is a high chance that participants will drop out.

Frequently Asked Questions about Longitudinal Research

The difference between cross-sectional and longitudinal research is that cross-sectional research investigates different people at a specific time. Whereas, longitudinal research investigates the same participants across a time period.

The importance of longitudinal research in psychology is that it can help researchers:

  • See the long-term effects of things such as medication and intervention 
  • Learn about the order of events that happen over time 
  • Recognise changes that occur over time 

Longitudinal research is a type of research that is used when researchers want to test the same participants for a long period of time. This method usually collects data from participants at regular time intervals across this time period.

Longitudinal survey research is research that takes place over a long period of time. The research collects data from surveys at regular time intervals throughout the research. 

Qualitative longitudinal research is a form of longitudinal research that use qualitative methods such as observations and interviews to collect data. 

Final Longitudinal Research Quiz

Question

What is the definition of longitudinal research? 

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Answer

Longitudinal research is used when researchers want to test the same participants for an extended period. This method usually collects data from participants at regular intervals throughout the research. 

Show question

Question

What is the importance of longitudinal research in psychology?

Show answer

Answer

The importance of longitudinal research in psychology is that it can help researchers:

  • See the long-term effects of medication and intervention 
  • Learn about the order of events over time 
  • Recognise changes over time.

Show question

Question

What type of longitudinal study is the following example, a study investigating the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol and later alcohol dependency?

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Answer

 Longitudinal cohort retrospective study

Show question

Question

What type of longitudinal study is the 1970 British Cohort study?

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Answer

 Longitudinal cohort retrospective study

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Question

What is a panel study?

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Answer

A panel study is a form of longitudinal research that investigates a group of people over a long time. For this research type, the researchers need to try and recruit a generalisable sample to the population. 

Show question

Question

What is the difference between panel and cohort studies?

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Answer

The difference between cohort and panel studies is that panel longitudinal research attempts to obtain a generalisable sample to the broader population. In contrast, cohort studies recruit participants who share a common characteristic. 

Show question

Question

What is the first step usually taken when doing longitudinal research?

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Answer

The first step of longitudinal research is to identify the phenomena the researcher is interested in.

Show question

Question

What type of research collects data on something that has already happened? 

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Answer

Retrospective research 

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Question

What type of research collects data on something that the researcher expects to happen?

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Answer

Prospective research

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Question

What should researchers do to make sure their longitudinal research is valid? 

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Answer

To ensure that the research is valid the researchers need to ensure:

  • They use the same planned data collection methods
  • They follow the same protocol each time they collect data
  • They record all of the collected data from the research.

Show question

Question

Why do researchers need to record all of the data that is found in longitudinal research?

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Answer

To prevent bias affecting results 

Show question

Question

Why did the 1970 British Cohort Study use a longitudinal research design? 

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Answer

The 1970 British Cohort Study used a longitudinal design because it aimed to identify the long-term effects across the lifespan of factors such as policing, individual differences, and mental health. 

Show question

Question

What are the strengths of longitudinal research?

Show answer

Answer

The strengths of longitudinal research are:

  • There is less likelihood of recall bias affecting the results of the study
  • It can also provide detailed information that may not be able to be found in a short period
  • It also can help researchers identify what should be researched investigated further. 

Show question

Question

What are the weaknesses of longitudinal research? 

Show answer

Answer

The weaknesses of longitudinal research are: 

  • Time-consuming and expensive
  • A large sample is needed for the findings to be meaningful 
  • There is a high chance participants will drop out. 

Show question

Question

What problems can participants dropping out cause for longitudinal research?

Show answer

Answer

As longitudinal research takes over a long period, participants are more likely to drop out. When this happens, it is difficult to compare the results across the study timepoints, affecting the study’s reliability and validity.

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