The state of the art and future opportunities for using longitudinal n-of-1 methods in health behaviour research: a systematic literature overview

Suzanne McDonald (Corresponding Author), Francis Quinn, Rute Vieira, Nicola O'Brien, Martin White, Derek W Johnston, Falko F Sniehotta

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n-of-1 studies test hypotheses within individuals based on repeated measurement of variables within the individual over time. Intra-individual effects may differ from those found in between-participant studies. Using examples from a systematic review of n-of-1 studies in health behaviour research, this article provides a state of the art overview of the use of n-of-1 methods, organised according to key methodological considerations related to n-of-1 design and analysis, and describes future challenges and opportunities. A comprehensive search strategy (PROSPERO:CRD42014007258) was used to identify articles published between 2000 and 2016, reporting observational or interventional n-of-1 studies with health behaviour outcomes. Thirty-nine articles were identified which reported on n-of-1 observational designs and a range of n-of-1 interventional designs, including AB, ABA, ABABA, alternating treatments, n-of-1 randomised controlled trial, multiple baseline and changing criterion designs. Behaviours measured included treatment adherence, physical activity, drug/alcohol use, sleep, smoking and eating behaviour. Descriptive, visual or statistical analyses were used. We identify scope and opportunities for using n-of-1 methods to answer key questions in health behaviour research. n-of-1 methods provide the tools needed to help advance theoretical knowledge and personalise/tailor health behaviour interventions to individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-323
Number of pages17
JournalHealth Psychology Review
Issue number4
Early online date25 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

MW is a member of the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR). Both Fuse and CEDAR are UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) Public Health Research Centres of Excellence. Funding from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, and the Wellcome Trust under the auspices of the UKCRC, is gratefully acknowledged.


  • Journal Article
  • n-of-1 methods
  • health behaviour
  • single-case
  • idiographic methods


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