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Dev Psychopathol. 1998 Spring;10(2):395-426.

The design and analysis of longitudinal studies of development and psychopathology in context: statistical models and methodological recommendations.

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  • 1Harvard University, Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


The utility and flexibility of recent advances in statistical methods for the quantitative analysis of developmental data--in particular, the methods of individual growth modeling and survival analysis--are unquestioned by methodologists, but have yet to have a major impact on empirical research within the field of developmental psychopathology and elsewhere. In this paper, we show how these new methods provide developmental psychopathologists with powerful ways of answering their research questions about systematic changes over time in individual behavior and about the occurrence and timing of life events. In the first section, we present a descriptive overview of each method by illustrating the types of research questions that each method can address, introducing the statistical models, and commenting on methods of model fitting, estimation, and interpretation. In the following three sections, we offer six concrete recommendations for developmental psychopathologists hoping to use these methods. First, we recommend that when designing studies, investigators should increase the number of waves of data they collect and consider the use of accelerated longitudinal designs. Second, we recommend that when selecting measurement strategies, investigators should strive to collect equatable data prospectively on all time-varying measures and should never standardize their measures before analysis. Third, we recommend that when specifying statistical models, researchers should consider a variety of alternative specifications for the time predictor and should test for interactions among predictors, particularly interactions between substantive predictors and time. Our goal throughout is to show that these methods are essential tools for answering questions about life-span developmental processes in both normal and atypical populations and that their proper use will help developmental psychopathologists and others illuminate how important contextual variables contribute to various pathways of development.

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