Answered By: APUS Librarians
Last Updated: May 19, 2020     Views: 46403

In casual, non-scientific conversation the words hypothesis and theory are often used to mean the same thing: an idea, or notion, or hunch about something.  In reality, they are quite different.

A hypothesis is an educated guess or prediction about the relationship between two variables. It must be a testable statement; something that you can support or falsify with observable evidence.

The objective of a hypothesis is for an idea to be tested, not proven. The results of a hypothesis test can demonstrate only whether that specific hypothesis is or is not supported by the evidence. But, when many studies produce similar outcomes, then together they may suggest a theory for the phenomenon under investigation.

A theory is a well-established, tested explanation that provides a unified description of some aspect of the natural world. A theory is based on substantiated data, repeated testing, and the consensus of a wide group of scientists/researchers.

The objective of a theory is to attempt to explain phenomena that have been studied extensively and carefully over time by many researchers. A theory doesn’t prove that the “unified description” is true. But, because theory is a result of scientifically rigorous research, it is more likely that the theory is true (as compared to a single hypothesis). Any theory can (and should) be tested but the tests must be scientifically conducted and reviewed by many, qualified researchers/scientists.

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