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The immediate psychological effects of written solution-focused questions in female secondary school students.

Abdulla, Adam


Adam Abdulla



The popular literature assumes that solution-focused (SF) questions have positive effects on variables such as expectancy and commitment, which are crucial for goal attainment. Typically contrasted with problem-focused (PF) alternatives, SF questions/techniques were originally developed in family therapy and deployed in face-to-face interactions. However, they are now commonly used in educational contexts and frequently delivered through writing. It is therefore important to examine the effects of written SF/PF questions/techniques on students' expectancy and commitment. There are two parts to this thesis. The first part is a systematic review of experimental studies published between 1988 and 2020, investigating the effects of written SF (and PF) questions on students' expectancy and commitment. The aim of this review is to clarify what was known before the author's first publication. The second part of the thesis outlines some of the contributions of the author's public output, which (for the purposes of this PhD) consists of six papers, all of which were published in peer-reviewed journals between 2021 and 2022. Each paper reports at least one randomised controlled experiment that examines the impact of written SF questions in female secondary school students. The systematic review reveals several important limitations in the evidence base that existed before the author's publications. Those limitations include: (i) the use of undergraduate samples (only); (ii) the absence of commitment from the dependent variables; and (iii) the failure to isolate particular questions/techniques. The author's publications contribute to the literature by: (i) reporting results obtained with secondary school students; (ii) illuminating the effects of SF questions on students' goal commitment; (iii) examining the impact of particular SF questions/techniques; and (iv) highlighting the importance of ease-of-retrieval/difficulty-in-generation (i.e. students' experience of ease/difficulty in responding to SF questions). The findings reported in the author's public output include the following: (1) the positive effects of written SF questions on students' expectancy and commitment are likely to be more modest than the popular literature suggests; (2) compared to PF questions, some SF questions may have positive indirect effects on goal commitment by enhancing students' expectancy; (3) compared to PF questions, some SF questions may also have negative direct effects on commitment; and (4) when students are asked SF questions, their expectancy/perceived self-efficacy may be affected by the ease/difficulty experienced in generating a response. The author's public output indicates that certain written SF techniques may have some positive effects on expectancy and commitment, but these effects are probably small or moderate, rather than large. Moreover, the author's publications suggest that solution-focused practitioners should also consider the impact of ease-of-retrieval / difficulty-in-generation. Collectively, the author's studies suggest that it would be unwise to treat written SF techniques as "magic bullets". More obviously positive effects may (perhaps) be achieved in longer interventions including multiple SF questions and/or face-to-face interactions.


ABDULLA, A. 2023. The immediate psychological effects of written solution-focused questions in female secondary school students. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis. Hosted on OpenAIR [online]. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Sep 5, 2023
Publicly Available Date Sep 5, 2023
Keywords Student psychology; Student experience; Student commitment; Qualitative research methods
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