Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 2: Research questions and the role of theory (pp. 2729)

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In this topic

  1. Origins of Research Questions (p. 27)
  2. What Is a Scientific Theory? (pp. 2729)
    1. Theories are about constructs
    2. Theories describe causal relations among constructs
    3. Theories are general in scope
Origins of Research Questions

Research questions are provoked by curiosity about why people behave the way they do. This includes large social problems as well as everyday events that affect everybody's life.

Social psychologists try to discover general principles about human behavior that apply to many different situations, instead of focusing on specific events and specific individuals.

What Is a Scientific Theory?

A scientific theory is a statement about the causal relationships among abstract constructs. It is a statement that holds for specific types of people, times, and settings.

Theories are about constructs

Constructs are abstract concepts because they cannot be directly observed or measured; for example, "knowledge," or "love."

Theories describe causal relations among constructs

Theories state that a change in one construct (the cause) produces a corresponding change in another construct (the effect).

The fact that theories can explain why certain events occur is very important, as we can then conduct practical interventions to change that behavior or to solve that problem.

Theories are general in scope

Theories are intended to apply to many people across different settings and times.

The general range of applicability varies between theories. Some theories are more limited in scope, and may apply only to a certain group of people.

So what does this mean?

Social psychologists try to reach general conclusions about why people behave the way they do, both to solve large social problems as well as to understand everyday events. Research questions are thus most often provoked out of an initial curiosity; the researcher has the desire to find the answer to his or her question about events, ideas, people, or phenomena. In order to discover general principles about human behavior, social psychologists develop scientific theories about the causal relationships among abstract concepts. These scientific theories must satisfy three requirements: (1) they are about constructs, (2) they describe causal relationships, and (3) they are general in scope.

Next topic

Testing theories: From theory to research

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 2 introduction
  2. Research questions and the role of theory
  3. Testing theories: From theory to research
  4. The role of ethics and values in research
  5. Chapter overview (PDF)
  6. Fill-in-the-blanks
  7. Multiple-choice questions