Alternating treatments design

Alternating treatments design DEFAULT

Alternating Treatments Design: One strategy for Comparing the Effects of Two Treatments in a Single Subject

A little used and often confused design, capable of comparing two treatments within a single subject, has been termed, variously, a multielement baseline design, a multiple schedule design, and a randomization design. The background of these terms is reviewed, and a new, more descriptive term, Alternating Treatments Design, is proposed. Critical differences between this design and a Simultaneous Treatment Design are outlined, and experimental questions answerable by each design are noted. Potential problems with multiple treatment interference in this procedure are divided into sequential confounding, carryover effects, and alternation effects and the importance of these issues vis-a-vis other single-case experimental designs is considered. Methods of minimizing multiple treatment interference as well as methods of studying these effects are outlined. Finally, appropriate uses of Alternating Treatments Designs are described and discussed in the context of recent examples.


Alternating treatments design (i.e., multielement design) – the rapid alternation of comparing two or more treatments (i.e., independent variable) while measuring the effects on the target behavior (i.e., dependent variable).

Types of ATD

  1. Single-phase without a no-treatment control condition
  2. Single-phase with two conditions, one of which is a no-treatment control condition
  3. Two-phase design with initial baseline and treatment phase of two or more conditions (one being a no-treatment condition)
  4. Three-phase design with initial baseline and treatment phase of two or more conditions (one being a no-treatment condition) and a final phase of best-treatment-only

The fourth type shows the most functional control.


  • Does not require treatment withdrawal
  • Quick comparison of interventions
  • Applicable for behaviors that cannot be reversed (skill acquisition)
  • Minimizes sequence effects
  • Appropriate for data that are unstable
  • Appropriate for addressing effects of generalizing to other behaviors
  • Intervention can begin immediately (no need for baseline)


  • Multiple treatment interference – While ATD minimizes sequence effects, it can raise questions about multiple treatment interference: confounding effects of one treatment influenced by another treatment administered at the same time.
  • Unnatural rapid alternation – The quick alternations (and quick identification of an appropriate treatment) should outweigh any negative effects.
  • Limited capacity – the maximum of four treatments should be compared at once. When possible, comparing two treatments at a time is best practice.  
  • Selection of treatments – ideally one could compare any treatment but in reality, the treatments should be different enough for the participant to be able to discriminate between the two. This treatment also isn’t appropriate for a procedure that takes a continuous period of implementing.


BACB Fourth Edition Task List B.05Download

Barlow, D.H., & Hayes, S.C. (1979). Alternating treatments design: One strategy for comparing the effects of two treatments in a single subject. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 12(2), 199-210. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1979.12-199

Cooper J.O, Heron T.E, Heward W.L. Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson; 2007. [Google Scholar]

Graphing Tutorial Blog

About the Author: Becca Duncan, M.A., BCBA, is a supervisor with the Behavior Analyst Mentorship Network. She has worked in the field since 2012 in residential programs, day programs, schools, in home, and in clinic settings with ages ranging from 2-95-years-old. Becca’s expertise includes ABA therapy, supervision, skill acquisition, children with autism, and adults with complex needs.

Post Views: 2,379

  1. Rainbird sprinkler control valve
  2. 35 gallon bin
  3. Angela brauer cbs4

Alternating treatments design: one strategy for comparing the effects of two treatments in a single subject.

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.

  • Agras S, Leitenberg H, Barlow DH. Social reinforcement in the modification of agoraphobia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1968 Oct;19(4):423–427. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Agras S, Leitenberg H, Barlow DH, Thomson LE. Instructions and reinforcement in the modification of neurotic behavior. Am J Psychiatry. 1969 Apr;125(10):1435–1439. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Agras WS, Leitenberg H, Barlow DH, Curtis NA, Edwards J, Wright D. Relaxation in systematic desensitization. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1971 Dec;25(6):511–514. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Barlow DH, Hersen M. Single-case experimental designs. Uses in applied clinical research. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1973 Sep;29(3):319–325. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Benjamin LS. A special Latin square for the use of each subject "as his own control". Psychometrika. 1965 Dec;30(4):499–513. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Browning RM. A same-subject design for simultaneous comparison of three reinforcement contingencies. Behav Res Ther. 1967 Aug;5(3):237–243. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Corte HE, Wolf MM, Locke BJ. A comparison of procedures for eliminating self-injurious behavior of retarded adolescents. J Appl Behav Anal. 1971 Fall;4(3):201–213.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Doke LA, Risley TR. The organization of day-care environments: required versus optional activities. J Appl Behav Anal. 1972 Winter;5(4):405–420.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Dunham PJ. Contrasted conditions of reinforcement. A selective critique. Psychol Bull. 1968 May;69(5):295–315. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Edgington ES. Statistical inference and nonrandom samples. Psychol Bull. 1966 Dec;66(6):485–487. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Edgington ES. Statistical inference from N--1 experiments. J Psychol. 1967 Mar;65(2):195–199. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Kazdin AE. The influence of behavior preceding a reinforced response on behavior change in the classroom. J Appl Behav Anal. 1977 Summer;10(2):299–310.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Leitenberg H. The use of single-case methodology in psychotherapy research. J Abnorm Psychol. 1973 Aug;82(1):87–101. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • O'Brien F. Sequential contrast effects with human subjects. J Exp Anal Behav. 1968 Sep;11(5):537–542.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • O'brien F, Azrin NH, Henson K. Increased communications of chronic mental patients by reinforcement and by response priming. J Appl Behav Anal. 1969 Spring;2(1):23–29.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Redd WH, Birnbrauer JS. Adults as discriminative stimuli for different reinforcement contingencies with retarded children. J Exp Child Psychol. 1969 Jun;7(3):440–447. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Steinman WM. The social control of generalized imitation. J Appl Behav Anal. 1970 Fall;3(3):159–167.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Waite WW, Osborne JG. Sustained behavioral contrast in children. J Exp Anal Behav. 1972 Jul;18(1):113–117.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • White GD, Nielsen G, Johnson SM. Timeout duration and the suppression of deviant behavior in children. J Appl Behav Anal. 1972 Summer;5(2):111–120.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
  • Zimmerman J, Overpeck C, Eisenberg H, Garlick B. Operant conditioning in a sheltered workshop. Further data in support of an objective and systematic approach to rehabilitation. Rehabil Lit. 1969 Nov;30(11):326–334. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
Creating Alternating Treatment Design Graph in Excel


Treatments design alternating


Alternating Treatments Design Explained


You will also like:


663 664 665 666 667