The cross-lagged panel model (CLPM) is believed by many to overcome the problems associated with the use of cross-lagged correlations as a way to study causal influences in longitudinal panel data. The current article, however, shows that if stability of constructs is to some extent of a trait-like, time-invariant nature, the autoregressive relationships of the CLPM fail to adequately account for this. As a result, the lagged parameters that are obtained with the CLPM do not represent the actual within-person relationships over time, and this may lead to erroneous conclusions regarding the presence, predominance, and sign of causal influences. In this article we present an alternative model that separates the within-person process from stable between-person differences through the inclusion of random intercepts, and we discuss how this model is related to existing structural equation models that include cross-lagged relationships. We derive the analytical relationship between the cross-lagged parameters from the CLPM and the alternative model, and use simulations to demonstrate the spurious results that may arise when using the CLPM to analyze data that include stable, trait-like individual differences. We also present a modeling strategy to avoid this pitfall and illustrate this using an empirical data set. The implications for both existing and future cross-lagged panel research are discussed.
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