September 26, 2008

Brief attributional interventions

In my post of yesterday I mentioned the important solution-focused technique of creating an expectation of positive change. Some time ago I came across some research which beautifully proves the effectiveness of applying this technique. Timothy Wilson (photo), Michelle Damiani and Nicole Shelton have written a chapter entitled Improving the Academic Performance of College students with Brief Attributional Interventions in this terrific book. In it, they describe research by Wilson and Linville (1982, 1985). These researchers tried out certain interventions with students experiencing academic setbacks in the first year of college, which, by the way, is rather common due to the transition from one level of school to the next. The authors write:
First-year college students might be helped by an intervention that encouraged them to attribute any academic problems they were having to temporary factors. One way of accomplishing this, Wilson and Linville reasoned, would be to convey the simple message that many beginning college students experience academic difficulties, but that these difficulties tend to improve after the first year. The effects of this simple intervention were dramatic. Compared with the control condition, students in the treatment condition improved their grades in the following year and were more likely to remain in college.
Lots of replication studies and follow up studies have been carried out since and the results are surprisingly consistent. For more details read the terrific chapter. These results are very interesting from a solution-focused perspective. If we look more closely at what Wilson and Linville did with their intervention we can easily recognize two familiar solution-focused techniques: 1) normalizing, and 2) creating an expectation of positive change. The first part is normalizing: "many beginning college students experience academic difficulties". The second part is creating an expectation of positive change: "these difficulties tend to improve after the first year".

I am sure there is much more research that confirms elements of the solution-focused approach. I quite like this 'elementary' approach of researching solution-focused interventions. If we only rely on a more 'moleculary' approach, in which we only compare effects of sets of interventions combined, we miss the opportunity to learn on a more detailed level.


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