Exploratory Latent Growth Models in the Structural Equation Modeling Framework

Kevin J. Grimm, Joel S. Steele, Nilam Ram, John R. Nesselroade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Latent growth modeling is often conducted using a confirmatory approach whereby specific structures of individual change (e.g., linear, quadratic, exponential, etc.) are fit to the observed data, the best fitting model is chosen based on fit statistics and theoretical considerations, and parameters from this model are interpreted. This confirmatory approach is appropriate when a strong theory guides the model fitting process. However, this approach is often also used when there is not a strong theory to guide the model fitting process, which might lead researchers to misrepresent or miss key change characteristics present in their data. We discuss Tuckerized curves (Tucker, 1958, 1966) as an exploratory way of modeling change processes based on principal components analysis and propose an exploratory approach to latent growth modeling whereby minimal constraints are imposed on the structure of within-person change. These methods are applied to longitudinal data on cortisol response during a controlled experimental manipulation and height changes from early childhood through adulthood collected from 2 different studies. We highlight the additional insights gained, some of the benefits, limitations, and potential extensions of the exploratory growth curve approach and suggest there is much to be gained from using such models to generate new and potentially more precise theories about change and development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)568-591
Number of pages24
JournalStructural Equation Modeling
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Decision Sciences
  • General Economics, Econometrics and Finance
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Modeling and Simulation


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