A Gentle Introduction to Bayesian Analysis: Applications to Developmental Research


  • We would like to thank the following researchers for providing feedback on our manuscript to improve the readability: Geertjan Overbeek, Esmee Verhulp, Mariëlle Zondervan-Zwijnenburg, Christiane Gentzel, Koen Perryck, and Joris Broere. The first author was supported by a grant from The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research: NWO-VENI-451-11-008. The second author was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305D110001 to The University of Wisconsin–Madison. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.


Bayesian statistical methods are becoming ever more popular in applied and fundamental research. In this study a gentle introduction to Bayesian analysis is provided. It is shown under what circumstances it is attractive to use Bayesian estimation, and how to interpret properly the results. First, the ingredients underlying Bayesian methods are introduced using a simplified example. Thereafter, the advantages and pitfalls of the specification of prior knowledge are discussed. To illustrate Bayesian methods explained in this study, in a second example a series of studies that examine the theoretical framework of dynamic interactionism are considered. In the Discussion the advantages and disadvantages of using Bayesian statistics are reviewed, and guidelines on how to report on Bayesian statistics are provided.