The Sleeper Effect: Artifact or Phenomenon—A Brief Comment on Bell et al. (2013)

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Bell, Marcus, and Goodlad (2013) recently conducted a meta-analysis of randomized controlled additive trials and found that adding an additional component to an existing treatment vis-à-vis the existing treatment produced larger effect sizes on targeted outcomes at 6-months follow-up than at termination, an effect they labeled as a sleeper effect. One of the limitations with Bell et al.'s detection of the sleeper effect was that they did not conduct a statistical test of the size of the effect at follow-up versus termination.


To statistically test if the differences of effect sizes between the additive conditions and the control conditions at follow-up differed from those at termination, we used a restricted maximum-likelihood random-effect model with known variances to conduct a multilevel longitudinal meta-analysis (k = 30).


Although the small effects at termination detected by Bell et al. were replicated (ds = 0.17–0.23), none of the analyses of growth from termination to follow-up produced statistically significant effects (ds < 0.08; p > .20), and when asymmetry was considered using trim-and-fill procedure or the studies after 2000 were analyzed, magnitude of the sleeper effect was negligible (d = 0.00).


There is no empirical evidence to support the sleeper effect.

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