Within-Subject Designs: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:07 Within-Subject Design
  • 1:31 Strengths
  • 2:27 Limitations
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Sometimes a researcher wants to look at how each subject does at different points during a study. In this lesson, we'll look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of a within-subjects design and how to counterbalance subjects for a stronger study.

Within-Subject Design

Emily is a psychologist who is interested in the effects of noise level on concentration. She believes that the noisier a room is, the less people will be able to concentrate.

To test her hypothesis, Emily gathers a bunch of volunteers and gives them a passage to read in a noisy room. Afterwards, she tests their memory of the reading passage. Then, she puts all of the volunteers into a room that's quiet and has them read another passage. Finally, she tests them on the passage they read in the quiet room.

If Emily's hypothesis is correct, her subjects should score better on the passage that they read in the quiet room than in the noisy room.

Emily's study is an example of a within-subjects design, which is sometimes called a repeated measures design. This type of experimental design is when one set of participants are tested more than once and their scores are compared. It is called 'repeated measures' because the researchers are repeatedly measuring the performance of each participant.

For example, Emily's subjects are given two reading passages and two tests. When she compares their noisy room scores to their quiet room scores, she'll be able to see how much of a difference noise level makes on concentration.

Let's look at the main strength and limitation of a within-subjects design, as well as how to guard against some of the possible problems with a within-subjects design.


Imagine for a moment that Emily decides to divide her subjects in half and put half of them in a noisy room and half of them in a quiet room. She'll then compare the results of the noisy group to the results of the quiet group.

This is a different design because each participant is only taking one test, and they are being compared to other people's performance, not their own. But if Emily decides to use this type of design, how does she know that all of the smart people won't end up in the quiet room? Maybe the results will be because her groups are different, not because of the difference in noise level between the two rooms.

The main strength of a repeated measures design is that you are comparing apples to apples. In other words, Emily won't have to worry that all the smart people ended up in one group or the other because everyone is in both groups. By comparing everyone to themselves, she can really see how noise level affects people's concentration.

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