Sampling procedures

A key issue with many observational methods is the adequacy of the sampling procedure used to obtain the data. Since many behaviours vary in their natural frequency during the waking day, many events should, theoretically, be observed continuously throughout the day. However, if the time needed for continual observation is unavailable, a representative sample of the whole day should be observed. Ideally, a random sample of time periods should be observed. Although only fixed observation periods may be feasible in practice, these should be distributed throughout the day—such as 9.30 to 11.00 am, 2.00 to 3.30 pm, and 7.00 to 8.30 pm. A smaller sample may be adequate if each target event or sequence of behaviour is qualitatively similar; this is in contrast to behaviour that is highly variable qualitatively, when a larger sample will be needed to obtain a stable base rate.

The effects of therapeutic learning acquired in one setting may not necessarily be displayed in another, perhaps a postdischarge, environment. This phenomenon is called 'poor generalization of learning', and is found particularly with severely mentally ill adults. Accordingly, behavioural observations, when used as an outcome measure of treatment effectiveness, should take place in both the patient's current and subsequent environments.

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