Is it possible to prove a research hypothesis? In short, no. You cannot prove a research hypothesis, and I shall explain. In psychology, and arguably science as well, nothing can ever be proven, only supported (1). There is no doubt that your research results either support your hypothesis or are completely opposite to it, yet this is not proof. Even if there are a multitude of other studies that also support your findings, the research hypothesis still hasn’t been proven. It only takes one piece of evidence to throw all previous findings out of the water, as this one piece of contradictory evidence could raise so many questions about the previous research: was it reliable? Were the data valid? Why are these findings different?
Without findings contradicting research, we would not have had the paradigms we have had in the past. A paradigm is a novel thought or theory in an area that is different to a previous one. Paradigms occur because of a few finding, new research techniques, or even just simply a different way of looking at things (2). Famous paradigms in the past include those of the move from positivism to critical theory, and the move from Freudianism to developmental ideas. As research develops, and experiments are becoming more valid and more reliable, paradigm shifts are occurring. We are learning more about the brain and its effects on our actions, so there is a shift towards neurological research, as opposed to evolutionary research, for example.
In psychology, humans are such complicated individuals with so many differences between us. Therefore, one finding can never be applied to all of us, and hence the finding cannot be proved, as there is a large chance that at least one of us will be an exception to that theory. However, does this means our theories are not yet refined enough, or are humans too complicated to have an overall research hypothesis?
Don’t get me wrong, research support is exceptionally important, yet proof is impossible. With humans, there is no scientific or mathematical proof that can be written and applied to us all, like there can be applied to gravity and the speeds of light and sound. So therefore, a research hypothesis cannot be proved, and disproof in the past has led to the paradigm shifts shaping the world of research today.
- Popper, K. R. (1959). The logic of scientific discovery. London: Hutchinson & Co.
- Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). Competing paradigms in qualitative research.