Summary and Keywords
Longitudinal structural equation modeling (LSEM) is used to answer lifespan relevant questions such as (a) what is the effect of one variable on change in and other, (b) what is the average trajectory or growth rate of some psychological variable, and (c) what variability is there in average trajectories and what predicts this variability. The first of these questions is often answered by a LSEM called an autoregressive cross-lagged (ACL) model. The other two questions are most typically answered by an LSEM called a latent growth curve (LGC). These models can be applied to a few time waves (measured over several years) or to many time waves (such as present in diary studies) and can be altered, expanded, or even integrated. However, decisions on what model to use must be driven by the research question. The right tool for the job is not always the most complex. And, more importantly, the right tool must be matched to the best possible research design. Sometimes in lifespan research the right tool is LSEM. However, researchers should prioritize research design as well as careful specification of the processes and mechanisms they are interested in rather than simply choosing the most complicated LSEM they can find.
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