Is it possible to prove a research hypothesis?
December 8, 2011, 12:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A hypothesis is a testable prediction of what you think the results of a research study are likely to be. It is a statement about the relationship between two or more variables. In statistics, the only way of supporting your hypothesis is to refute the null hypothesis.

A null hypothesis is a working hypothesis that is to be disproved by a statistical test in favour of the alternative hypothesis.  Rather than trying to ‘prove’ your idea (the alternate hypothesis) right you must show that the null hypothesis is likely to be wrong – you have to ‘refute’ or ‘nullify’ the null hypothesis. You have to assume that your alternate hypothesis is wrong until you find evidence to the contrary.

Karl Popper said, ‘All swans are white cannot be proved true by any number of observations of white swan – we might have failed to spot a black swan somewhere – but it can be shown false by a single authentic sighting of a black swan. Scientific theories of this universal form, therefore, can never be conclusively verified, though it may be possible to falsify them.’

Popper’s idea about doing science is that you formulate a hypothesis, try to prove it wrong, and, from your results, formulate a new hypothesis. Why not try to prove it right?  Because you can’t; you never know if there isn’t one more experiment that will prove it wrong.

Einstein said ‘A thousand scientists can’t prove me right, but one can prove me wrong’.  We can’t prove a hypothesis but we can disprove it.

It is easier to disprove a hypothesis – it would take just one observation to refute the hypothesis, than it is to prove a hypothesis – it is impossible to test every possible outcome.

Science advances only through disproof.

Absolutely proving a hypothesis is impossible. As to prove something implies it can never be wrong.  However, well-designed scientific experiments can allow researchers to strongly infer from empirical evidence that their hypothesis is correct.

There is no ‘proof’ or absolute ‘truth’ in science.




8 Comments so far
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Even though you may find a great deal of evidence proving your research hypothesis you can never truly proven. After extensive research you will only ever be able to say that you found some sort of relationship was found between two variables. Your hypothesis can be disproved by repeating your study in order to find a trend that could falsify them but research hypothesis can never be proven.
I agree that science advances through disproof continued research in to one theory could lead to further assumptions that then are investigated

Comment by itsstats3453

A hypothesis is an observed guess; it can be always be disproven but never truly proven. To quote Einstein, No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; however a single experiment can prove me wrong. Karl Popper suggested that researchers should try to disprove a hypothesis rather than proving it. Incessant experiments can always be carried out with the same end result, nevertheless this experiments will only ever inaugurate that there is a relationship between the variables being investigated.

Comment by Sharon Mitchell

I feel that no hypothesis can ever be proven, however using the null hypothesis, stating that no interaction will occur, and then disproving this statement with a great enough significant level, is the best way to get a useful outcome out of research.

For example without conducting research in this way researchers will only look for evidence to prove their alternative hypothesis, but the null hypothesis ensures that this doesn’t happen.

Although both methods can lead to type one and type two errors the null hypothesis reduces the chances of this happening, and no matter what there is always going to be some chance that the findings are not a significant one and are down to chance. However research is often conducted a number of times to ensure it isn’t.

Comment by serenapsychology

I agree that it is impossible to prove something in Psychology although we can be sure enough to apply research to everyday life. For example research has suggested but not proven that when a mother smokes during pregnancy it can negatively affect the baby so it is widely recommended by doctors and nurses that the mother doesn’t smoke for the babies sake.
I also agree that science progresses through the disproving of previous paradigm. This is why i don’t consider many psychoanalytic explanations for behaviour scientific the theories cannot be disproven for example The psychoanalytic theory of development (Frued 1915) cannot be disproved becuase it deals in forces that can’t be measured e.g. the unconscious mind. How can you disprove the oedipus and electra complex?

Comment by liamjw91

I feel that a research hypothesis is an idea at the centre of a research. Without this initial idea, research would not be conducted, as the purpose of a research is to answer an initial question. As you said, it is only possible to support or reject a research hypothesis. The reason for this is because, it is impossible to test for all possible outcomes.
When a research hypothesis stands the test of time, it can then develop into a theory. However, these can also be adapted or falsified, and should not be thought of as gospel, as they can not be proved; only supported. So it is easier to disprove a hypothesis than it is to prove it, as it is impossible to test every possible outcome, but finding one example/outcome which supports the null hypothesis is all that is needed to disprove a hypothesis.

Comment by psud78

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