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What Is a Hypothesis?

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Testing a hypothesis

Before conducting psychology research, it is important to start with a testable hypothesis.

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Definition:

A hypothesis is a tentative statement about the relationship between two or more variables. A hypothesis is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study. For example, a study designed to look at the relationship between sleep deprivation and test performance might have a hypothesis that states, "This study is designed to assess the hypothesis that sleep deprived people will perform worse on a test than individuals who are not sleep deprived."

Unless you are creating a study that is exploratory in nature, your hypothesis should always explain what you expect to happen during the course of your experiment or research.

Remember, a hypothesis does not have to be correct. While the hypothesis predicts what the researchers expect to see, the goal of research is to determine whether this guess is right or wrong. When conducting an experiment, researchers might explore a number of different factors to determine which ones might contribute to the ultimate outcome.

In many cases, researchers may find that the results of an experiment do not support the original hypothesis. When writing up these results, the researchers might suggest other options that should be explored in future studies.

Elements of a Good Hypothesis

When trying to come up with a good hypothesis for your own psychology research or experiments, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your hypothesis based on your research of a topic?
  • Can your hypothesis be tested?
  • Does your hypothesis include independent and dependent variables?

Before you come up with a specific hypothesis, spend some time doing background research on your topic. Once you have completed a literature review, start thinking of potential questions you still have. Pay attention to the discussion section in the journal articles you read. Many authors will suggest questions that still need to be explored.

Examples of a Good Hypothesis

A hypothesis often follows a basic format of "If {this happens} then {this will happen}." One way to structure your hypothesis is to describe what will happen to the dependent variable if you make changes to the independent variable.

The basic format might be:

"If {these changes are made to a certain independent variable}, then we will observe {a change in a specific dependent variable}."

A few examples:

  • "Students who eat breakfast will perform better on a math exam than students who do not eat breakfast."

  • "Students who experience test anxiety prior to an English exam will get higher scores than students who do not experience test anxiety."

  • "Motorists who talk on the phone while driving will be more likely to make errors on a driving course than those who do not talk on the phone."

Checklist

  • Does your hypothesis focus on something that you can actually test?
  • Does your hypothesis include both an independent and dependent variable?
  • Can you manipulate the variables?
  • Can your hypothesis be tested without violating ethical standards?

Learn more about:

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

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