What Is an ABA Design?

ABA design
ABA designs allow researchers to compare a baseline condition to a treatment condition. Glow Images, Inc / Glow / Getty Images


ABA design involves establishing a baseline condition, introducing and experimental treatment, and then returning to the baseline.

How Does an ABA Design Work?

The ABA design is a type of experimental design in which participants are first introduced to a baseline condition (A). In the baseline condition, no treatment or experimental variable is introduced.

Next, participants receive the experimental condition or treatment (B), after which they return to the baseline condition (A).

The ABA design allows experimenters to observe behavior before treatment, during treatment and after treatment.

Reasons to Use an ABA Design

ABA designs are a type of single-subject design. The purpose of this type of experimental design is to observe changes individual may exhibit as a result of the treatment.

By establishing the baseline, researchers are able to observe how the participant performs with no treatment. After the treatment is applied, the participants are then retested. Finally, the participants once again return to the baseline condition. As a result, researchers are able to see what effect, if any, the treatment had.

For example, let's imagine that we are conducting an experiment to determine the impact of illustrations on reading comprehension among third-graders.

First, our participants start by reading a text-only paragraph that is not accompanied by a picture. They then answer several questions to assess their reading comprehension of the material.

Next, the same group of kids reads a second paragraph that includes and illustration.

The students are then tested again. Finally, students read another text-only paragraph and are tested. We can then analyze our results to determine if text with illustrations improved scores on reading comprehension.

ABAB Design

An extention of this experimental design is the ABAB design. This involves measuring a baseline (A), introducing the treatment (B), withdrawing the treatment (A), and finally reintroducing the treatment (B). The benefits of this type of design is that it not only allows researchers to observe what happens when a treatment is removed, it also allows them to see what happens when the treatment is introduced the second time.

Characteristics of the ABA Method

The ABA approach shares some of the common characteristics of other single-subject designs:

1. ABA designs allow researchers to obtain repeated measurements in order to establish consistent patterns in behaviors.

2. ABA designs also allow investigators to get clear data on the baseline conditions as well as the treatment conditions.

3. This type of design also lets researchers measure things in a reliable way through consistent measurement and controlled conditions.

4. It allows experiments to look at how a single variable influences behaviors.

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