Attrition in prevention research

William B. Hansen, Linda M. Collins, C. Kevin Malotte, C. Anderson Johnson, Jonathan E. Fielding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Selective attrition can detract from the internal and external validity of longitudinal research. Four tests of selective attrition applicable to longitudinal prevention research were conducted on data bases from two recent studies. These tests assessed (1) differences between dropouts and stayers in terms of pretest indices of primary outcome variables (substance use), (2) differences in change scores for dropouts and stayers, (3) differences in rates of attrition among experimental conditions, and (4) differences in pretest indices for dropouts among conditions. Results of these analyses indicate that cigarette smokers, alcohol drinkers, and marijuana users are more likely to drop out than nonusers, limiting the external validity of both studies. For one project, differential rates of attrition among conditions suggested a possible attrition artifact which will interfere with interpretation of outcome results, possibly masking true program effectiveness. Recommendations for standardizing reports of attrition and for avoiding attrition through second efforts are made.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-275
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1985


  • attrition
  • dropout
  • longitudinal design
  • substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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