Hypothesis Testing in Psychology Research

Hypothesis testing first starts with theory. Theories are particular assumptions about the way things are. After a theory is formulated, a conceptual hypothesis is created, which is a more specific (than pure theory) prediction about the outcome of something. Next an experimental hypothesis is created. This is where definitions are operationalized so specific matters can be tested. For example, you could operationalize affection as number of hugs and kisses and other related actions. Then you statistically hypothesize in order to measure and test one of two hypotheses: the null, or H0, which represents non-effect (i.e. no difference between samples or populations, or whatever was tested), and an alternate hypothesis, H1.

The alternate hypothesis is that there is a difference, or an effect. It can be that one mean is greater than another, or that they are just not equal. So, the purpose of statistical testing is to test the truth of a theory or part of a theory. In other words, it is a way to look at predictions to see if they are accurate. To do this, researchers test the null hypothesis. We do not test the alternate hypothesis (which is what we think will happen). We do this because we base our testing on falsification logic (i.e., it only takes one example to prove a theory is wrong but conversely you cannot prove that a theory is right without infinite examples, so we look for examples where we are wrong).

The probability associated with a statistical test is assigned to the possibility of the occurrence of Type I error. This is the probability that you will reject the null hypothesis when in fact the null is true and thus should not have been rejected. It is saying there was an effect or a difference when there really was not.

The process of statistical testing can result in probability statements about the theories under consideration but only under certain conditions. Statistical testing and hypothesizing is representative of theory when it is conceptually (verbally and operationally) connected to theory. This means that there has to be a logical and direct association between the statistical probability statements and the theory in order for those statements to represent the overarching theory. This link is forged by the experimental and conceptual hypotheses.

Contributions of Social Psychology Research

The Crowd Looking at the Clock by Ms. Abitibi
The Crowd Looking at the Clock by Ms. Abitibi

Social psychology is the study of individuals within groups, or as they are affected by others. So, while groups are important and often studied, it is really the individual who ultimately receives the focus. It is different from other subdisciplines in that interpersonal relationships are taken into account. In other words, people’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotions are affected by their relationships to and with others. This differs from cognitive psychology, for example, because cognitive theorists typically are just looking at mental processes and trying to understand the basic nature of thought, without [much] regard to the influence that others have on cognition. I say “much” because social and cognitive psychology have had a long relationship so there is some overlap between the two.

Social psychology is different from behaviorism in that social psychologists look at underlying cognitive processes and behaviorists do not. Although, they are similar in that both look at external influences on behavior (after all, behaviorism is that all behavior is learned from others). So, really the biggest difference between social psychology and all other subdisciplines of experimental psychology is the focus on self and other influences on affect, behavior, and cognition.

These three main components of social psychology—affect, behavior, and cognition—are all areas of psychology where social psychology has provided key and keen insights. One aspect of the uniqueness of social psychological research is how often researchers get surprising results from their studies. First, I’ll address the insights we’ve gained from social psychology about affect (i.e., emotion), behavior, and cognition. Continue reading “Contributions of Social Psychology Research”