Last week, we summarized a literature review that explained how stress leads to overeating and ultimately contributes to weight gain.
This information didn’t come from a meta analysis, but from a different kind of large-scale study called a literature review. We asked Janis Whitlock, a research scientist in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Transnational Research and Director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery, to explain the difference. Here’s what she had to say:
“Meta analyses use statistics to combine results from different studies. The idea is to find patterns in an entire body of data or find disagreements in the results.
“Reviews of the literature involve reviewing a body of literature on a particular topic and looking for common themes. It most often does not include a quantitative analytical approach, as do meta analyses, but does involve integration and distillations of common findings, themes, and theories.
“Both are necessary and useful – they just serve slightly different purposes. Meta-analysis are really useful when we’re looking to quantify effects of a particular phenomenon that has been measured somewhat consistently across different populations or time points. Literature reviews are more common and flexible. These are more conceptual comparisons or integrations of disparate bodies of literature that may have something to say about a particular topic.”
Here at EBL, we have mainly focused on systematic reviews as the gold standard of measuring the evidence on particular topics. But literature reviews provide a worthwhile overview of broad topics, and are can also help to steer future research in the right direction.