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What Is a Theory?


What Is a Theory?

A theory is much more than a guess or a hunch. A theory both describes a behavior and make predictions about future behaviors.

Image courtesy Bob Smith

Question: What Is a Theory?


The term theory is used with surprising frequency in everyday language. It is often used in to mean a guess, hunch, or supposition. You may even hear people dismiss certain information because it is "only a theory." It is important to note as you study psychology and other scientific topics, that a theory in science is not the same as the colloquial use of the term.

A theory is a based upon a hypothesis and backed by evidence. A theory presents a concept or idea that is testable. In science, a theory is not merely a guess. A theory is a fact-based framework for describing a phenomenon. In psychology, theories are used to provide a model for understanding human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

A psychological theory has two key components: (1) it must describe a behavior and (2) make predictions about future behaviors.

Theory Examples

Throughout psychology's history, a number of different theories have been proposed to explain and predict various aspects of human behavior. Some of these theories have stood the test of time and remain well-accepted today. Others have not held up under close scientific scrutiny, and may have been rejected altogether or only partially accepted by researchers today.

If you are looking for an example of a psychological theory, consider the following:

Each theory has helped contribute to our knowledge base of the human mind and behavior. Some theories, like classical conditioning, are still well-accepted today. Others, like Freud's theories, have not held up so well and have been largely replaced by new theories that better explain human development.

Reasons to Study Psychology Theory

In your psychology courses, you may find yourself questioning the necessity of learning about so many different psychology theories, especially those that are considered inaccurate or outdated. However, all of these theories provide valuable information about the history of psychology, the progression of thought on a particular topic and a deeper understanding of current theories.,


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