C. Hypothesis Testing

About Hypothesis Testing

An essential component of the scientific process is the formulation and evaluation of hypotheses. In seeking to learn more about the social world, social scientists ask many different kinds of questions about relationships between factors of social life. How do investors change their behavior when market conditions change? What role did political and social factors play in the Salem witch trials? Do feelings of connectedness influence students' performance in school? To address these questions, social scientists form hypotheses which they then evaluate using some form of data.

You may be familiar with examples of hypotheses and hypothesis testing from the natural sciences, perhaps through schoolwork or participation in a school science fair. You may have evaluated hypotheses such as:

  • The combination of certain chemical compounds yields heat energy.
  • Plants' growth is enhanced through exposure to ultraviolet light.
  • When a moving object collides with another object, the total kinetic energy of the two objects does not change.

Typically, hypotheses such as these are generated from some theory or theoretical perspective, then evaluated using data collected through some laboratory procedures. Research in the social sciences works similarly (though often outside the laboratory). This module is designed to introduce you to hypotheses in the social sciences.

What is a Hypothesis?

A hypothesis is an empirically-testable statement about a relationship involving two or more variables. Examples of hypotheses from the social sciences include:

  • Investors seek low-risk investments in economic downturns.
  • The Salem witch trials were an expression of tension of political and social power in that community.
  • Students' feelings of connectedness to school are an essential element of their academic success.

Each of these specifies a relationship that may or may not exist under particular conditions. They are testable statements about relationships between different factors. But why bother with forming a hypothesis as part of the research process?