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Counterbalancing can be defined as using all of the possible orders of conditions to control order effects (Cozby, 2009). An order effect is when the order of “presenting the treatments affects the dependant variable” (Cozby, 2009, 155). In a repeated measures design it is very important that the experimenter counterbalances all of the possible orders of conditions because the extent to which order is influencing the results can be determined. Counterbalancing can be used in experiments with three or more groups. There are six possible orders for a group of three, twenty four possible orders for four conditions, one hundred and twenty orders for five conditions, etc. The way this is calculated is: (3! = 3 * 2 * 1 = 6).

Example / Application

Example: Calculating the Probability of Simple EventsNPR video - Personal Space Violations

Application:In the video about personal space, the three conditions that needed to be counterbalanced were: do nothing in the elevator, stare at a participant in the elevator while keeping a distance, and standing close enough to invade the participant’s space. Keep in mind that the participants in the elevator are unaware that they are taking part in an experiment. Since there are three conditions, there are six possible orders. The experimenter could do nothing, then look, then stand close, or the experimenter could do nothing, and then stand close, then look, etc. The purpose of changing the order of these conditions is to see which one elicits a response and what response can be contributed to which condition. Counterbalancing can be used for the elevator and the Second Life experiment. If the elevator experimenter always looked before he stood close, we could not conclude whether the response would be the same if he stood close first. The experiment could be improved by using other conditions such as proximity when speaking on a cell phone in the elevator or doing various other activities. Does being occupied change the distance to which the other person becomes uncomfortable? I know that when I sit on the Metrolink train, I am much more comfortable sitting near a person reading or doing work, in comparison to a person that is just sitting there.


Cozby, P. C. (2009). Methods in Behavioral Research: Tenth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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