LEARNING OBJECTIVES

• What approaches do scientists use to measure behavior in adult development and aging research?

• What are the general designs for doing research?

• What specific designs are unique to adult development and aging research?

• What ethical procedures must researchers follow?

L

eah and Sarah are both 75 years old and are in fairly good health. They believe their memory is not as good as it once was, so they both use various memory aids: Leah tries to think of images in her mind to remember her grocery list, whereas Sarah writes them down. Leah and Sarah got into a discus­sion recently about which technique works better.

You might be asking yourself why you need to know about research methods when you could just Google the topic and find out all sorts of things about it. Here’s why—there is good research and bad research and everything else in between. The only way to tell the difference is by knowing what makes good research that results in trustworthy information.

Just as in any profession, gerontology has cer­tain tools of the trade that are used to ensure good research. That’s what we will be considering in this section—the tools that gerontologists have used for decades in discovering the secrets of adult develop­ment and aging.

This section is so important that if you have trouble understanding the information after read­ing it a few times, ask your instructor.

So suppose Leah and Sarah know that you’re tak­ing a course in adult development and aging, and they ask you to settle the matter. You know research could show whose approach is better under what circumstances, but how? Gerontologists must make several key decisions as they prepare to study any topic. They need to decide how to measure the topic of interest, they must design the study, they must choose a way to study development, and they must respect the rights of the people who will participate in the study.

What makes the study of adult development and aging different from other areas of social science is the need to consider multiple influences on behav­ior. Explanations of development entail consider­ation of all the forces we considered earlier. This makes research on adult development and aging more difficult, if for no other reason than it involves examining more variables.