Identifying Effective Treatments from a Brief Experimental Analysis: Using Single-Case Design Elements to Aid Decision Making

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Experimental analysis refers to the manipulation of an independent variable while observing its effects on behavior. In the 1980s, researchers began conducting brief experimental analyses to identify the variables maintaining severe problem behavior in individuals with developmental disabilities. By adapting certain design elements, brief experimental analyses have been used in school and clinical settings to compare quickly two or more treatment alternatives, allowing one to select the most effective option. This paper discusses the benefits of using brief experimental analyses to aid in treatment selection, identifies the forms of treatment that are most appropriate for this type of analysis, and describes key design elements (i.e., abridged data series, alternating and sequential treatment applications, and mini-withdrawals) for comparing two or more treatments efficiently. A study is presented demonstrating the use of these design elements to identify an effective intervention for two preschool students. The article discusses the implications of these strategies and presents resources for further study.

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