Is it possible to prove a research hypothesis?

The fundamental cause of any science itself. If a research hypothesis can be proved, then that’s one big tick in the quest for knowledge of everything. (Give yourself a pat on the back you hard working scientists) but honestly can anything truly be set in stone? I’m sure thousands of years ago some of the first “research hypothesises” were tested. Look at ancient wars, there must have been someone who thought, “How can we defeat this huge army?” Probably sat in some cold cave somewhere, corporals and generals alike sat in confusion on how to defeat the army in question. Until one lonely solider at the back sparked the potential hypothesis, “What if we stab them” Sure enough it was a crazy and unheard of idea, but like most revelations, they need to be tried and tested, and sure enough the army was thwarted! Ok, I’ll be honest, most of that was ramble, but the basic concept of the whole thing stands true. We propose a theory, we test it, and then conclude whether it’s right or wrong. If it’s right, then the theory holds up, and until there’s something that says otherwise, we hold up the theory as valid. Certainly idea’s in physics and biology have stood the test of time, take Newton’s theory of Gravity, and that we as humans, need oxygen to survive. Now this is all fine and dandy, but these are defined as “true sciences,” so what about the new boy in the class, psychology.

Let’s take at some of the earlier idea’s in the field. Who can forget the big dog Sigmund Freud. He thrust psychology into the sciences face and said, “Come on, take a look at this!” His theories and ideas on human behaviour were considered revolutionary, and even though they were made over 100 years ago, many are still discussed today. Although this doesn’t mean that they havent been discredited or scrutinised. Take the psychosexual theory for example: the idea that children developed a libido through distinct stages. If any of these stages are over or undersatisfied, then behavioural traits will be shown in adulthood. This is all well and good, but if we look at this from the behavioural perspective, then it could be argued that instead these behaviours were simply conditioned due to their enviroment. With no true empirical evidence for Freud’s theory, and a lot conflicting against it, can we really say that this is still proved?  What about the oedipus and electra conflicts? I’m pretty sure at the age of 6 I wasn’t lusting for my mother, I was more pre-occupied with which power ranger I was, and could I build a laboratory in my wardrobe. Another founding theory down the drain.

The only problem with even the most fundemental of psychological ideas is that there is always contrasting data and theories.  Take thought processes for example. If I was offered a new drug for the first time, how would I react? Social psychologists would argue I would be influenced by who offered it me, how many people were there,  and how I react in social situations. Biological psychologists could argue that a flight or fight chemical reaction is initiated, is adrenline released in my blood stream by the excitement of a new sensation, or is it simply because I am anxious and survival instincts have kicked in to avoid the situation. Cognitive psychologists would have another explanation for this, saying I would go through a series of through processes and mechanisms, look at the costs and benefits of taking the drugs, and whether it would impact my health or not. These are only 3 ideas yet all completely different, and because they all have some form of impirical evidence to support them, we can’t even eliminate an option and discredit the theory. But in that same sense, none of them can be proven either.

Admittedly areas such as neuropsychology are bridging the gap between psychology and the true sciences, but that’s only due to the scientific value of the empirical data. The true sciences provide the strongest argument that research hypotheises can be proved, but as long as humans strive for more knowledge, how can we ever be certain of anything?…Even ourselves…


4 thoughts on “Is it possible to prove a research hypothesis?

  1. I agree, there is a problem with the proof and that nothing can never actually be proven. We uphold theories to be the truth until another theory comes along and disproves it. The same applies to whether anything is a fact or not, we say that it’s a fact that the sun will rise tomorrow morning but that’s only because it’s done so for thousands of years, what if tomorrow it doesn’t? How could anything ever be a ‘fact’ if there is always a chance it’s not.

  2. I enjoyed how you brought in real-life examples as well as scientific ones to help explain hypothesis testing. However, I think it would have been useful to have gone into further detail about the advantages and disadvantages of hypothesis testing. In relation to Freud’s theories and them being unable to be scientifically tested, I believe this highlights a disadvantage with hypothesis testing, as it encourages Psychologists to only investigate observable and measurable. Without Freud’s qualitative research into the unconscious, personality development, dreams and so much more, where would we be today? Something like Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’? Some of the other problems with quantitive research designs, which aim for true or false answers and cannot cope with uncertainty. Humans are complex, which makes it difficult for certainty. Although I believe it is important to have some structure within research, we should stop trying to make Psychology a ‘pure’ science because we won’t be able to investigate complex phenomenon such as emotion.

  3. The ways in which you assessed situations from different perspectives of psychologists really worked wonders for this article!
    If psychology became a true science, would it necessarily still be emperical? It is important to note that all cannot be necessarily explained by quantative data, and our qualitative approaches may influence our results in some respects, but make leaps and bounds in other ways!
    For example, if I was clutching a questionaire and I got several people to fill it out, and you were standing at the other end of the room and asked these people the same questions; would they give us different answers? Even our presence can affect the results, but the beauty of emperical data is that we can observe things with our own eyes and channel our own thoughts; it may not be emperically testable (much like you said with Freud and your mother, vs powerangers!) If a group of us saw something that could never be proved using quantative data, we would still know it proved our theory, even if others don’t share those same thoughts!
    Similarly, maybe that was what Freud saw? (Nothing to do with his opium habits of course…)

  4. Pingback: Comments for TA; Week 4/5 « 1jessicakes

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