A cross-sectional study refers to analyzing the data in a population at a particular point in time. Cross-sectional studies base on observations called descriptive research.
Cross-sectional studies are not relational or causal, which means these studies cannot evaluate the cause of anything, for example, a disease. The researchers note the details about a population and note them, but they do not alter the variables.
Uses of Cross-Sectional Studies
The researchers select the participants based on specific variables. Generally, researchers employ cross-sectional studies in developmental psychology. However, these studies have shown effectiveness in subjects such as Education and Social Science.
For instance, researchers studying developmental psychology may choose several people belonging to different age groups. But, they conduct studies about them at one point in time. In this way, the gap in age may characterize age difference, instead of anything that occurred over some time.
The purpose of this research is to define the attributes that are present in the community. Notably, it does not refer to the cause and effect relationship among the variables.
Researchers use this approach so that they could make inference regarding probable relationship and to collect basic data for the advancement of research and experiments.
The Fundamental Characteristics of Cross-Sectional Studies
Following are the major characteristics of cross-sectional studies
- They focus on a single point in time
- Researchers do not manipulate variables
- Researchers analyze various characteristics of the population such as income, gender, age group and others
- Researchers investigate the prevalent characteristics of the given population
- These studies provide information about the events in a specific population
Furthermore, a cross-sectional study serves as a snapshot of a specific group of individuals at a particular time. These studies are in contrast to the longitudinal studies that evaluate a given group of people over a prolonged period. Cross-sectional studies observe the events that take place in the present moment.
This type of study is useful when researchers want to study the ongoing trends in a population at a specific time. For instance, a cross-sectional study may be helpful to find out whether exposure to a particular risk element may relate to specific results.
For instance, the researchers might note that individuals reported their involvement in a particular health behaviour that developed the tendency in them to suffer from a certain disease.
In this case, the cross-sectional research cannot establish that any specific behaviour was the leading cause behind the ailment. Nevertheless, the studies can point out the relationship that can lead to further examination or investigation.
Advantages of Cross-Sectional Research
Following are the benefits of the cross-sectional studies
They are less expensive and robust. Generally, a cross-sectional study is not very expensive and enables researchers to gather the data relatively quickly. It is safe to suggest that cross-sectional studies are not time-consuming.
The studies include different variables. The study enables researchers to gather information about different variables to examine the differences. For example, differences in age, income level, qualification, and demographics that may relate to the variable of interest.
These studies open the door for further research. Although the researchers cannot use cross-sectional studies to evaluate the causal relationship, the studies can provide critical information that may prove to be useful in further research.
While analyzing public health, such as a specific behaviour that may relate to a certain disease, the researchers might employ a cross-sectional study to get further hints. These hints may serve as a tool to carry out further experimentation.
For instance, researchers may want to learn how physical exercise impacts mental health when individuals head to old age. For this purpose, they may gather information about different age groups as to how much they exercise and what is their performance in cognitive tests.
Conducting this type of study may provide researchers with information about what type of exercises can be useful for mental health. Additionally, the research may prove to be instrumental in setting the direction for further studies.
Challenges of a Cross-Sectional Study
The study has some challenges, and they are as under:
Cannot differentiate cause and effect. Some other variables may affect the relationship between the concluded cause and the results.
Cohort variations. The cohort differences may have effects on groups that emerge from specific experiences of some people. People born in the same period may have significant historical experience.
On the other hand, individuals in the group who come to the world in a particular geographic area may have experience base on their physical location. For instance, those who existed during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Second World War, or Soviet-Afghan War may have had the same experiences. These experiences distinguish them from other age groups.
Report Bias. Studies and questionnaire regarding particular elements of individuals’ lives may not lead to accuracy in reporting.
Comparison of Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Studies
Cross-Sectional Studies are not similar to longitudinal studies. Longitudinal studies require researchers to take different measures over a prolonged period. In cross-sectional studies, researchers make a variable as a focal point and observe that in a specific point in time.
Another major difference between the two studies is that researchers need considerable resources, and thus, it is more expensive than cross-sectional research.
Likewise, selective attrition may influence the longitudinal study. It refers to the fact that the study may drop out some of the participants before researchers collect all important information or data.
Cross-sectional studies serve as an essential research tool in many fields of education, especially health. The studies provide information about particular events or occurrence in a certain population.
With the help of Cross-Sectional studies, researchers can understand the relationship which may exist in the variables. Importantly, cross-sectional studies may provide a proper framework for further experimentation and studies.
Predominantly, cross-sectional studies based on observation. Also, the cross-sectional studies are useful in developmental psychology and other subjects such as Social Sciences and Education. The study is not expensive, and researchers make observations in quick time.