Single-Subject Research in Psychiatry: Facts and Fictions

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Abstract

Scientific evidence in the field of psychiatry is mainly derived from group-based ("nomothetic") studies that yield group-aggregated results, while often the need is to answer questions that apply to individuals. Particularly in the presence of great inter-individual differences and temporal complexities, information at the individual-person level may be valuable for personalized treatment decisions, individual predictions and diagnostics. The single-subject study design can be used to make inferences about individual persons. Yet, the single-subject study is not often used in the field of psychiatry. We believe that this is because of a lack of awareness of its value rather than a lack of usefulness or feasibility. In the present paper, we aimed to resolve some common misconceptions and beliefs about single-subject studies by discussing some commonly heard "facts and fictions." We also discuss some situations in which the single-subject study is more or less appropriate, and the potential of combining single-subject and group-based study designs into one study. While not intending to plea for single-subject studies at the expense of group-based studies, we hope to increase awareness of the value of single-subject research by informing the reader about several aspects of this design, resolving misunderstanding, and providing references for further reading.

Original languageEnglish
Article number539777
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13-Nov-2020

Keywords

  • psychiatry
  • single-subject
  • idiographic
  • nomothetic
  • N-of-1
  • intra-individual
  • TIME-SERIES ANALYSIS
  • TEMPORAL DYNAMICS
  • PHYSICAL-ACTIVITY
  • N-OF-1 TRIALS
  • PERSONALIZED TREATMENT
  • INDIVIDUAL-DIFFERENCES
  • COGNITIVE THERAPY
  • WITHIN-PERSON
  • OLDER-ADULTS
  • DEPRESSION

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