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Chapter Four. Traditional Idiographic Approaches: Small-N Research Designs

Bryan K. Saville and William Buskist

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405132800.2005.00005.x


Strolling through the stacks of psychology periodicals in any college or university library creates the distinct impression that there is an awful lot of scientific research going on in psychology these days. That impression is right on the money. Leafing through almost any of these journals leaves the impression that all of psychological research either involves survey research or between-groups designs. That impression is not entirely accurate for it overlooks a rigorous methodology that actually predates survey and between-group research in psychology and is still very much alive today. This kind of research is called small-N research and it is the mainstay for conducting studies in the field of psychology known as behavior analysis. The small-N approach to research is characterized by in-depth study of a single or relatively few subjects under tightly controlled experimental conditions in which the independent variable(s) is repeatedly manipulated over successive trials or conditions and in which the dependent variable(s) is repeatedly measured. Sometimes small-N research is referred to as “single-subject research,” but this designation is a misnomer because, more often than not, such research involves more than one subject. The small-N approach is used in basic research involving both human and nonhuman subjects where the goal is to understand basic behavioral processes, and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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