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Reversal/Withdrawal Design

Reversal/Withdrawal Design – repeated measures of behavior between two treatments (reversal) or a treatment and baseline (withdrawal)

Distinction between reversal and withdrawal

Reversal Design: reversing between treatments (e.g., baseline, treatment, NCR, treatment, NCR, treatment, etc.)

Withdrawal Design: reversing between treatment and no treatment (e.g., baseline, treatment, baseline, treatment, etc.)

The most straight-forward design and the most powerful design in demonstrating functional control.

Types of Reversal/Withdrawal Designs

  1. Repeated reversals (ABABAB) – reversing between baseline and treatment three or more times (withdrawal design due to the return to baseline)
  2. BAB design – the weakest of the reversal designs, due to the lack of the initial baseline (withdrawal design due to the return to baseline)
  3. Multiple treatment reversal design – reversal design that compares the effects of two or more treatments
  4. NCR reversal – using noncontingent reinforcement as a control condition
  5. DRO reversal – the control condition consists of delivering the reinforcer following the emission of any behavior OTHER than the target behavior
  6. DRI/DRA reversal – the control condition consists of delivering the reinforcer following an alternate or incompatible behavior
Quiz: Is this reversal or withdrawal?


  • Clearly demonstrates functional relation between the independent and dependent variable
  • Return to baseline demonstrates need for maintenance
  • ABAB ends with treatment in place


  • Not applicable with behaviors that cannot be reversed (skill acquisition). Although a reversal to a control condition (see #3-6 in Types of Reversal/Withdrawal Designs above)
  • Ethical considerations of removing an effective treatment


Cooper J.O, Heron T.E, Heward W.L. Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson; 2007. [Google Scholar] Chapter 8

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About the Author: Becca Duncan, M.A., BCBA, is a supervisor with the Behavior Analyst Mentorship Network. She has worked in the field since 2012 in residential programs, day programs, schools, in home, and in clinic settings with ages ranging from 2-95-years-old. Becca’s expertise includes ABA therapy, supervision, skill acquisition, children with autism, and adults with complex needs.

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