Methods for Collecting Data in Life-Span Development

There are few basic research data collection methods used by Developmental Psychologists in the studies of life span development. They are as follows.
  1. Naturalistic Observation
  2. Structured Observation
  3. Clinical Interview
  4. Psychological tests- self report
  5. Case Study
  6. Ethnography


1.Naturalistic Observation

Observation means watching, monitoring, scrutiny, examination, or inspection. Best way to study something is to watch them/ it behave (eat, sleep, walk, think, etc) in their normal environment.
  • It is a detailed studies of cognitive performance in everyday situations and no laboratory contexts.
  • An observer watching people in familiar, everyday contexts going about their cognitive business.
  • Example- How to withdraw money from a automated teller machine (ATM).
  • Most appropriately used to identify problems, issues, or phenomena of interest to be investigated with other research methods. ◦
  • Positive Aspect-
    • Ecological validity.
    • Relatively easy,
    • Doesn’t require a lot of resources to carry out,
    • Doesn’t  require other people to formally volunteer for study.
  • Negative Aspect-
    • Lack of experimental control.
    • Observer bias.- to remove it we can use – Blind observers: People who do not know what the research question is: So, they will have no preconceived notions about what they “should” see.
Observer effect – people who know they are being watched, will not behave normally. Thus Observer should be hidden.

2.Structured Observation

Observation of behavior in a laboratory where conditions are the same for all participants. It is devised ingenious ways of observing difficult to capture behaviors. Systematic observation provides invaluable information on how children and adults actually behave, but it tells us little about the reasoning behind their responses. For this kind of information, researchers must turn to self-report techniques.Positive Aspect- Grants each participant an equal opportunity to display the behavior of interest.Negative Aspect- May not yield observations typical of participants’ behavior in everyday life.

3.Clinical Interview 

It is flexible interviewing procedure in which the investigator obtains a complete account of the participant’s thoughts.Positive Aspect- It comes as close as possible to the way participants think in everyday life. Great breadth and depth of information can be obtained in a short time.Negative Aspect- May not result in accurate reporting of information. Flexible procedure makes comparing individuals’ responses difficult. 

4.Self Report- Psychological tests

  • The observer observes his/ her own mental processes like to provide information on their perceptions, thoughts, abilities, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and past experiences.
  • Self-reports -An individual’s own account of cognitive processes.
  • For example- participants might be asked to solve complicated arithmetic problems without paper or pencil and to “think aloud” as they do so.
  • Positive Aspects of self report-
    • better insight into an experience and the factors that influenced it,
    • yielding a richer, more complete picture than an outsider could observe.
  • Negative Aspects of self report
    • Biasness in regard to your own cognition.
    • Social desirability of looking good .

5. Case Study

  • To obtain as complete a picture as possible of that individual’s psychological functioning and the experiences. A full picture of one individual’s psychological functioning, obtained by combining interviews, observations, and test score.
  • Positives – Provides rich, descriptive insights into factors that affect development.
  • Negatives- May be biased by researchers’ theoretical preferences. Findings cannot be applied to individuals other than the participant.

6. Ethnography

Participant observation of a culture or distinct social group. By making extensive field notes, the researcher tries to capture the culture’s unique values and social processes. Ethnographic research is a descriptive, qualitative technique. But instead of aiming to understand a single individual, it is directed toward understanding a culture or a distinct social group throughPositives – Provides a more complete description than can be derived from a single observational visit, interview, or questionnaire.Negatives– May be biased by researchers’ values and theoretical preferences. Findings cannot be applied to individuals and settings other than the ones studied.

7.Experiments or Laboratory Experiments/

  • Few times observing behavior of a person / animal is not practical in a natural environment.
  • When researches want more control on variables.
  • Fully controlled Independent variable.
  • Random Assignments of sample.
  • For example, Infants reaction to a mirror .
  • Positive Aspects of Experiments/ Laboratory Observation
    • Little more influence over the setting.
    • To standardize the setting for all participants,
    • Researcher would be trying to channel the behavior in certain ways.
  • Negative Aspects of Experiments/ Laboratory Observation
    • Subject or sample can have observer effect.


  • When researcher cant controlled Independent variable.
  • When Researcher cant assign sample randomly.
  • but researcher will have somehow control to most of the variables playing role in the experiment.
  • For example, experimenters cannot reassign participants to a different gender, ethnicity, age, or educational background.

9. Neuropsychological methods

These are useful to examine the brain damage, brain disease, and severe mental illness.
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)– shows brain activity
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scans -shows where neurons are firing.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – shows grey matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid.
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans 
  • Neuropsychological Assessment Battery® (NAB®) by Robert A. Stern, and Travis White, to Assesses a wide range of cognitive skills and functions Age range:18- 97 years; Time:3 hrs & 40 minutes for all five modules.


  • Berk, L. E. (2004). Development through the lifespan. (3rd Ed). New Delhi: Pearson Education Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd.
  • Feldman, R. S., & Babu, N. (2011). Discovering the Life Span. Indian subcontinent adaptation, New Delhi: Dorling Kindersley India pvt ltd.
  • Philip D. Harvey, Clinical applications of neuropsychological assessment.

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