A psychologist may have a theory about an aspect of human behaviour. A theory in general language usually means something like a guess or a hunch. In psychology, it is important to understand that theory does not have this meaning. A theory in psychology, as in science generally, is based on a hypothesis and then tested in experiments and research.
In psychology, a theory has two important components: –
A theory is therefore a concept or idea that we can test. It is not just a guess. It is the framework psychologists use to describe an aspect of human behaviour. So it provides a model to understand human behaviours, thoughts and emotions. A theory is an idea that psychologists have about how and why people think and behave in the way they do that can be tested.
So to test a theory, the psychologist will need to ask a question – this is known as setting up a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a testable statement. It is a prediction of what a psychologist expects to happen in an experiment/research.
For example, to test my theory that people in my office prefer to drink out of blue cups, I need to ask a question, or set up a hypothesis. I decide that I want to know if there are more blue cups in a cupboard than red? I am going to conduct an experiment. So my hypothesis might be –
“There will be more blue cups in the staff room cupboard than red.”
I will then go off and conduct an experiment. I will count the red cups and count the blue cups in the cupboard.
My hypothesis was that there would be more blue cups. I find that there are five red cups and four blue cups. So I have disproved my hypothesis. There are actually more red cups than blue. My theory was disproved by the experiment.
This is a simple example, but it shows what a hypothesis is. If I were to conduct psychological research, I may conduct experiments with a hypothesis such as –
All of these are testable statements. They are hypotheses (the plural of hypothesis). We could conduct experiments to test these hypotheses.
Psychology Tutor – Oxford Open Learning