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2.4 What Is a Theory?

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Learning Objectives

Define “concept.” Identify the features of theories. Evaluate the practicality of using theories.

“There is nothing so valuable as a great concept.”

Kurt Lewin

“Reality is that which, once you speak believing in it, doesn"t go ameans.”

Philip K. Dick

“Can I endure that interarea prior to the light turns red?” “Will I have actually sufficient money left at the end of the month to take my honey out to dinner at a nice restaurant?” “Can I trust my office mate to store a secret?” Every day we use conceptions of just how the human being works to make decisions and also answer concerns choose these.

Many of these conceptions are based on our very own previous experiences, what various other people have actually told us, what we’ve read or regarded on line, and also so on. Sometimes the conceptions are clearly current in our minds as we act; other times they lie beneath our awareness. In truth, the conceptions may represent a hodge-podge of fact, fiction, hunches, conjectures, wishes, and also presumptions. And they may change over time for factors we may or might not even be able to determine.

We may informally refer to these kinds of conceptions as “theories.” For instance, we can say, “He made a large mistake once he did that. My theory is that he was under most tension bereason of obtaining lhelp off from his job.” In examining communication, however, we exploit an extra refined meaning of the term “theory” which is anypoint yet a hodge-podge.

Defining “Theory”

HooverHoover, K. R. (1984). The Elements of Social Scientific Thinking (third ed.). New York: St. Martin"s Press, p. 38. straightforwardly identified a theoryA collection of inter-associated propositions that suggest why events occur in the manner that they execute. as “a set of inter-related propositions that imply why occasions happen in the manner that they perform.” According to the National Academy of Sciences,Boss, J. (2010). Think; Critical Thinking for Everyday Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 379. a clinical concept is “a well-substantiated explanation of some facet of the organic people that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and also tested hypotheses.” Comparable meanings have been put forth by various other authorities. All the interpretations, but, define theories as the product of intellectual task and also as a resource of understanding right into interpreting sensations.

Some theories are solid and also universally accepted. Examples incorporate the heliocentric theory and also germ concept. It’s assumed that these theories need no further experimentation or proof to continue to be welcomed.

Other more provisional theories, such as string concept in physics or self-efficacy theory in psychology, call for continual exploration and experimentation in order to be supported and also maintained. Theories are never to be regarded as factual, however fairly as models which condevelop to facts as very closely as feasible.

Functions of Theory

So—what can theories perform for us? Their major function is to help us make feeling of phenomena, including human behavior. They help us answer “why” and also “how” concerns about the civilization. More specifically, they can meet 3 significant attributes.

The initially attribute is explacountry. Theories can help us understand why entities—physical objects, procedures, or people—behave the means they do, individually or in interactions through each other.

The second feature is “postdictionInterpretation of specific previous sensations that accounts for why they would certainly be supposed to happen as they did..” Theories can assist us translate particular previous events and also events and also account for why they would be meant to happen as they did. Hence, they provide us assurance that order exists in at leastern part of the human being.

The last function is prediction, through which theories assist us gain confidence in describing what is most likely to take location later on. Many physical phenomena occur via a degree of stcapacity and also consistency over time. Although humans often surpincrease each other, psychologists have actually competed that someone’s past behavior is the best predictor of that person’s future behavior. Hence, if our theories have actually appropriately and also accurately postdicted the way someone has actually acted, they should lead us to a clear picture of what future behavior that perboy will certainly exhilittle bit.

Before they had reasonable theories about physical science, our ancestors found occasions prefer eclipses and earthquakes to be inexplicable. They responded to such sensations with dread or superstitious speculation. The very same was true via respect to complex bodily functions and the spread of condition. Having theories about our natural civilization and our location in it offers us as humans a comfortable, trustworthy structure upon which to strengthen and enlarge our expertise. Theories, in short, cost-free us to spreview our psychological wings and fly right into new region.

Three various other qualities are connected via great theories. First, they exhilittle bit parsimonySimplicity, as in a theory which includes no superfluous facets.; that is, they are as straightforward as possible. Second, they need to be consistent via previous theories. Third, they also have to be deniable.

DeniabilityThe capacity of a theory to be disprcooktop in light of proof. indicates that those who hold a concept should have the ability to define evidence which would cause them to abandon it. If this weren’t the instance, selecting among competing theories would be a issue just of who spoke loudest or battled hardest on befifty percent of their opinions.

What Theories Are Not

Many ingredients make up huguy inquiry. We’ve establimelted that theories rank among the the majority of crucial. Several others, however, are part of the landscape and also have to be identified from theories.

First of all, theories are not lawsA description of sensations which specifies unidevelop cause-and-result relationships which organize true under limited, characterized situations.. Laws specify unidevelop cause-and-effect relationships which host true under limited, characterized circumstances. Unfavor theories, which are broader, they execute not claim to define why the relationships exist. Consider Newton’s First Law of Motion, for instance: “Eextremely object in a state of unidevelop motion has a tendency to remain in that state of movement unmuch less an outside pressure is applied to it.” The theory of gravity, in comparison, even more extensively claims that any type of 2 or more objects exert a pressure of attractivity on one an additional.

Second, theories are not clintends. Claims are contentions based upon idea or opinion. They perform not necessarily depend on empirical evidence—i.e., proof obtained through conventional sense perceptions and assessed through clinical processes. Individuals and groups might proceed to preserve their clintends without regard to investigations and discoveries which counter their ideas. Theories, in comparison, are developed—and modified, if contrary proof arises—by careful, organized monitoring and also trial and error among members of a community.

Finally, theories are not disagreements. In day-to-day language, an dispute is ssuggest a reason someone offers for accepting or stating a certain case. More formally, a logician would say that an dispute comprises a premise and a conclusion. A premise can be “We all know that gray clouds occasionally develop rain. I view gray clouds in the skies.” This would be followed via a conclusion, such as “There’s a possibility that it’s going to rain.” A theory about weather, beyond its relevance to particular conditions in the sky at a certain time, incorporates all sorts of meteorological phenomena and also is supposed to apply universally.

Are Theories Practical?

Tbelow may be more than meets the eye to Kurt Lewin’s statement at the start of this area concerning concept and also exercise. Obviously, not all theories will certainly be equally valuable. Some can be used with even more assurance to larger domain names than others, some occupy a tenuous area among many type of other contending theories, and also some are ssuggest bad. Whether theories effectively overview action relies on whether they’re effectively occurred, whether they correspond well to truth, and also whether they’re sufficiently flexible to evolve as scenarios change and brand-new indevelopment becomes available.

In addition, it’s been pointed outSandelands, L.E. (1990). “What Is So Practical around Theory? Lewin Revisited.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 20 (3): 235–262. that discovering theories does not necessarily suppose that we will act according to them. And other develops of communication deserve to periodically be as provocative and also handy to us as concept. Good poeattempt, essays, and fiction all might inspire us and also assist instill the sort of confidence we have to make decisions and cover brand-new intellectual ground.

See more: Is It True What They Say That Words Are Weapons, Seether: Words As Weapons Meaning

Still, it’s clear that concept can serve as a crucial contextual variable as people and also groups refine and elaborate upon the practices they follow. As we’ll see in the following area, group communication theory constitutes just such a valuable contextual variable for us.


The concept of gravity tells us that all objects, in all situations and at all times, exert an attrenergetic pressure upon each other. Can you think of any kind of statements about huguy interactivity which uses in all situations and also at all times? What provides you confident of your answer? What are one or 2 significant presumptions you make around human being in groups which guide your very own behavior as part of those groups?