Evidence Based Practice

To define, explain, and summarize what an evidence based practice is, I am going to cite an article by Dr. Tristram Smith titled, “What is evidence-based behavior analysis”? You can find the full reference citation at the bottom of this post along with other cited authors.

For the purpose of this blog, all posts will use simple language and terminology to bridge the gap between research and all viewers from different backgrounds.

The field of applied behavior analysis is driven by research that is applied directly to the consumers. We don’t just rely on any kind of research, we rely on evidence-based practices and procedures that are put into treatment packages and applied in clinical, or the consumer’s natural settings, to assist in the problem solving process (Smith 2013). The package is evidence-based because its components have proven to be effective through a thorough experimentation and examination process. Treatments are packaged and implemented in the practice, “a service offered by the provider to the consumer” (Smith 2013).

Now I am going to elaborate and break down the process for you.

Evidence-based practices are derived from an experimental method called a single-subject experimental design (SSED). What separates single-subjectresearch designs from other methods of experimentation is in their “capacity to investigate a single case, or a single subject; the person under examination in the study” (Kazdin 2011). SSED result in important findings to research questions, providing a clearly described set of procedures, that can be replicated for reliability (Smith 2013).

Let’s use an example

For example, let’s say you want to see if giving a child a sticker when he/she cleans their room increases the likelihood that they will clean it again in the future. You would use that child as your participant in the SSED and test the effects of the sticker to see if the behavior of room cleaning increases over a period of time. This would be an example of a single-subject experimental design, the (SSED). Now, to rule out that other things in the environment, we call them variables, did not influence the child during the experiment, many SSED will use more than one person, who will participate separately from the others. For example, you may go to 5 different children’s houses and test giving a sticker for room cleaning behavior on each individual child and collect data on each child separately .

Next we will collect a baseline, what is that?

At the onset of this hypothetical SSED, repeated observations of the child’s room cleaning behavior would be observed and measured before the sticker is provided. This is called a baseline, and is described as the period in which the intervention (the presentation of the sticker) is not occurring or provided to the child. We want to know what the child’s behavior is like in the absence of the sticker to see if a change occurs once the sticker is provided. Once a steady period of time has passed where the child shows room cleaning behavior is low or not occurring (the baseline period), the intervention phase of the study is then conducted.

Quick Review

So to recap, we are looking at room cleaning behavior with the hypothesis (guess), that providing a sticker afterwards will increase this behavior. In our study we have begun by taking a baseline, jotting down the number of times the room is clean each day at given time periods when the child is asked to clean their room. So across 5 days our baseline may show zero or minimal room cleaning behavior. It will be minimal because we have already identified this behavior as having a low occurrence.

The Intervention

Now we will measure our intervention period. Here we provide the sticker for cleaning the room once it has been completed. When our intervention phase is complete, hopefully showing an increase in the behavior, we compare this phase to our baseline phase and see if there is an increase in room cleaning behavior following the presentation of the sticker. If the intervention phase results show to have increased with room cleaning we can say that our experiment was a success! Keep in mind this is a simplified explanation, there are of course several other considerations during the SSED process that are considered to ensure that the process is accurate and reliable. The best way to make sure that an experiment is successful is to see if it was indeed the intervention, (the stickers), that controlled the increase in room cleaning behavior. This is done through thorough analysis of the research findings and many factors are considered. But to keep it simple we will look for low responses in baseline and an increase in responses once the stickers are provided during our intervention phase.

Applying these research based interventions

Lets say I was working with a child who had low room cleaning behavior and wanted to increase their behavior, what would I do. The ethical guidelines of applied behavior analysis state that I should be using evidence based practices and procedures. Therefore, I would seek out a published research article that may include the results of the above sticker intervention example. I would examine the article and identify what procedures were used, look at the baseline and intervention data, and make sure that there is an increase in behavior do to the intervention of the stickers provided after room cleaning occurs. If the results in the research article show an increase during intervention, then I would replicate the procedures used, and would be applying and evidence based practice.

Now you know!

This is the process used in applied behavior analysis that allows us to evaluate the needs of the consumer, seek out, and identify an evidence based practice that will help the consumers and providers choose among intervention approaches (Smith 2013). So next time you are given a treatment option ask; has this intervention been done before, how was it done, and does it show proven results backed by data that are reliable, and directly related to the intervention?


Smith, T. (2013). What is evidence-based behavior analysis? The Behavior Analyst, 36, 7-33.

Kazdin, A. (2011). Single-case research designs: Methods for clinical and applied settings (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Sarah Conklin, MS, BCBA

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