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Home arrow Environment arrow Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches
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Maturation

The maturation confound refers to the fact that people in any experiment grow older or get more experienced while you are trying to conduct an experiment. Consider the following experiment: Start with a group of teenagers on a Native American reservation and follow them for the next 60 years. Some of them will move to cities; some will go to small towns; and some will stay on the reservation. Periodically, test them on a variety of dependent variables (their political opinions, their wealth, their health, their family size, and so on). See how the experimental treatments (city vs. reservation vs. town living) affect these variables.

Here is where the maturation confound enters the picture. The people you are studying get older. Older people in many societies become more politically conservative. They are usually wealthier than younger people. Eventually, they come to be more illness prone than younger people. Some of the changes you measure in your dependent variables will be the result of the various treatments—and some of them may just be the result of maturation.

Maturation is not just about people getting older. Social service delivery programs ‘‘mature’’ by working out bugs in their administration. People ‘‘mature’’ through practice with experimental conditions and they become fatigued. We see this all the time in new social programs where people start out being really enthusiastic about innovations in organizations and eventually get bored or disenchanted.

 
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