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Causation

Lifespan developmental researchers who wish to go beyond the prediction of future behavior need to address the challenges of causal inference. Researchers may wish to make causal claims about the long-term effects of early treatments (e.g., Head Start intervention vs. no intervention) or other “natural” conditions (e.g., having an alcoholic vs. nonalcoholic caregiver) on future outcomes (e.g., school achievement). Claims of causal effects demand ruling out plausible alternative explanations of the observed outcome.

Different disciplines have developed complementary approaches to causal inference, each with unique features and emphases. This entry describes Donald Campbell’s perspective and Donald Rubin’s potential outcomes perspective; it also provides brief overviews of Judea Pearl’s and Mervyn Susser’s perspectives. Depending on the research question, design, and the state of developmental knowledge, each perspective ...

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