Single-Subject Experimental Design 101: What is Single Subject Design?


The essence of single-subject design is using
repeated measurements to really understand an individual’s variability, so that we can
use our understanding of that variability to determine what the effects of our treatment
are. For me, one of the first steps in developing
a treatment is understanding what an individual does. So, if I were doing a group treatment
study, I would not necessarily be able to see or to understand what was happening with
each individual patient, so that I could make modifications to my treatment and understand
all the details of what’s happening in terms of the effects of my treatment. For me it’s
a natural first step in the progression of developing a treatment. Also with the disorders that we deal with,
it’s very hard to get the number of participants that we would need for the gold standard randomized
controlled trial. Using single-subject designs works around the possible limiting factor
of not having enough subjects in a particular area of study. My mentor was Dr. Cynthia Thompson, who was
trained by Leija McReynolds from the University of Kansas, which was where a lot of single-subject
design in our field originated, and so I was fortunate to be on the cutting edge of this
being implemented in our science back in the late ’70s early ’80s. We saw, I think, a nice
revolution in terms of attention to these type of designs, giving credit to the type
of data that could be obtained from these types of designs, and a flourishing of these
designs really through the 1980s into the 1990s and into the 2000s. But I think — I’ve
talked with other single-subject design investigators, and now we’re seeing maybe a little bit of
a lapse of attention, and a lack of training again among our young folks. Maybe people
assume that people understand the foundation, but they really don’t. And more problems are
occurring with the science. I think we need to re-establish the foundations in our young
scientists. And this project, I think, will be a big plus toward moving us in that direction.

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