Theory and Research
Upon completion of this chapter, the student should be able to:
- List the three functions of theory for research.
- Define paradigm and describe its role in science.
- Differentiate macro-level theory from micro-level theory.
- Show the role of theory, operationalization, and observation in the traditional model of science.
- Define hypothesis testing.
- Differentiate inductive logic from deductive logic by definition and example.
- Outline the steps in deductive theory construction.
- Discuss the link between social science theory and research.
Find out the clues here
Role of Theory in Research
Definitions I found:
A system of interconnected abstractions or ideas that condenses and organizes knowledge about the world.
In a general sense, any more or less formalized conceptualization of the relationship between variables. Any generalized explanatory principle.
An always tentative explanation of phenomena that we observe; never proven; representative of the most logical explanation based on currently available evidence; becomes stronger as more supporting evidence is gathered; provides a context for predictions.
Misconceptions about theory
- A tentative theory about the natural world; a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena; “a scientific hypothesis that survives experimental testing becomes a scientific theory
- A theory is more than just an idea.
- All theories are not equal.
Examples of theories:
- Theory of gravity
- Theory that the earth revolves around the sun
- Theory of evolution
- Frustration-aggression theory
Hypothesis vs. theory
- Hypothesis is an educated guess. A prediction about the relationship between two or more variables.
- A prediction as to what you expect to find.
- Hypotheses are more specific than theories.
- Theories have many different hypotheses.
Results of a single research study will not prove or disprove a theory.
- If the hypotheses offered by the theory are confirmed, the theory is supported (not proved).
- If lots of studies reveal that many of the hypotheses generated by the theory are false, the theory must be reevaluated.
What makes a good theory?
1. Falsifiability – The theory must make sufficiently precise predictions that we can at least imagine evidence that would contradict the theory.
Examples: Frustration-aggression theory
- Freud’s theory of repression.
- Theory of psychic ability
If something is not falsifiable, it doesn’t mean it is wrong, simply that it has no place in science.
2. Parsimony – simplicity
The best theory is the one that makes the fewest number of assumptions
All things being equal, the simplest theory is the best theory.
Also known as Ockham’s razor
The simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and the unknown should first be explained in terms of the known
E.g., theories of intelligence
Theories of UFO’s
Warning: simple theories are not always right.
3. Generativity – A good theory doesn’t just explain results that have been found, but it also generates predictions that can be tested
Research is promoted by the offering of a good theory.
E.g., frustration-aggression – little evidence for the theory initially, but it generated a lot.
4. Precision – the theory makes precise predictions.
Ambiguity is bad for a theory.
Predictions must have consistency: there cannot be internal contradictions.
5. Good track record – the theory holds up to research results. Studies have tested the hypotheses and have provided support.
The use of theory
Theory guides research
- Organizes ideas
- All research has a purpose
- Sociology, history, and political science, especially.
- A model or framework for observation and understanding, which shapes both what we see and how we understand it.
- E.g., conflict theory, feminist theory
The Aspects of Theory
Theories can be categorized by:
- The direction of reasoning
- The level of explanation
Direction of theorizing
Inductive vs. deductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning –reasoning from the general to the particular
Process of concluding that something must be true because it is a special case of a general principle that is known to be true
- All children like ice-cream [general principle]
- Tommy is a child [particular case]
- Tommy will like ice-cream [deduction]
Inductive reasoning – reasoning from the particular to the general
Process of reasoning that a general principle is true because the special cases you’ve seen are true
- “Dr. Boughner is strange”
- “Dr. Boughner lives in Tulsa”
- “People who live in Tulsa are strange”
Creation and use of stereotypes
Applying these types of reasoning to theory construction.
Deductive approach – build a theory by starting with an abstract, logical idea. Based on the theory, perform research to test the theory.
- Often starts with common sense, personal experience
- Theories change with testing
Inductive approach – build a theory by first looking at the results of many research projects and offering a theory that can be used to explain the data.
- Creating a theory in order to explain data.
Frustration-aggression theory – very little evidence existed in 1939. Deductive reasoning.
Thorndike’s law of effect
- any behavior that is followed by favorable consequences will be more likely to occur in the future, and behavior that is followed by aversive consequences will be less likely to occur.
Thorndike built the law after years of research. Inductive reasoning.
Typically, both induction and deduction are used by scientists.
Good theories probably use a little of both.
Warning about induction
Gould and Lewontin (1979) – The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian paradigm
Elephant’s trunk, giraffe’s neck
Stay away from just-so stories. Just because it fits the data does not mean it is right.
The main problem with just-so stories – lack of falsifiability.
Level of explanation
Levels of explanation are different throughout science
- E.g., chemistry vs. physics vs. psychology vs. sociology
Theory can be used at various levels of explanation.
In the social sciences, three levels of explanation for theory.
Micro-level theory – seeks to explain behavior at the level of the individual or family environment
Most of psychology is at the micro level
- Frustration-aggression hypothesis
- Sternberg’s theory of love
Macro-level theory – seeks to explain behavior at the level of large groups of people.
Study things like ethnicity, class, or gender
- Conflict theory – the society or organization functions so that each individual participant and its groups struggle to maximize their benefits, which inevitably contributes to social change such as changes in politics and revolutions.
Much of sociology is at the macro level
The primary difference between psychology and sociology is the level of explanation.
Meso-level theory – seeks to explain the interactions of micro-level organisms.
- Somewhat between micro and macro.
- Looks at things like social institutions, organizations, or communities. Basically small groups.
- Ex. What role should Psychology Club serve at RSU?
- Much of communications functions at the meso-level, though also micro and macro.
- Social psychology also may function at the meso-level.
Many times the same topic can be studied by all 3 levels of theory.
E.g., Tax cuts