A hypothesis is a statement or idea that gives an explanation to a series of observations. Therefore at first glance, one would assume that the ability to prove a hypothesis is not just possible, but a regular occurrence in psychology.
However as psychologists we know this is not entirely correct. In fact, a hypothesis can never be proved, but simply fail to be disproved. This idea comes from Karl Popper, a philosopher who brought in the idea that inherent testing of a hypothesis is what makes it scientific. For example the idea that “All swans are white” seems plausible and supported; however the sighting of one black swan disproves the whole theory.
This idea of disproving theories to develop more advanced replacements can only be done if the hypothesis is falsifiable. This is the notion that a theory can be disproved, and through this method improvements have broadened our understanding throughout psychology. An example of this is through the advances to Atkinson and Shiffrin’s multi-store model (1968) through falsification, as more recent models have shown an improvement upon it’s inadequacies (Baddeley and Hitch’s working memory model).
At the end of every research process new hypotheses are created, thus perpetuating the scientific process. This in itself can be an advantage, as it allows psychology to progress to deeper levels. However the problem arises when a theory isn’t falsifiable. An example of this is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as the vast amount of assumptions of how humans develop is based on Maslow’s interpretations. Therefore if the theory cannot be disproven, some may consider accepting it. This is not scientific as it cannot go through rigorous testing like other theories can. As Popper said, “Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the game of science”, and for that reason they cannot be scientifically accepted.
As Einstein said “Under what conditions would I admit that my theory is untenable?” Throughout his career he would continuously put his theory on the line by stating what exactly could falsify his work, as although a hypothesis may seem certain and proven at the time, a single observation in the future can completely change that.
However to many this approach may seem extremely uninspiring, and the idea of never having an accepted hypothesis, instead one that will constantly be falsified doesn’t correspond with the success many psychologists experience due to their ideas. Skinner’s operant conditioning for example has been widely accepted throughout psychology, and although elements of his work have been improved upon by others, is it appropriate to ‘reject’ such astonishing discoveries that have lay the foundations for the behaviourist approach?
Although the idea is pessimistic, the reality is that if one was able to ‘prove’ a hypothesis, it could stilt future research that could have developed from the theory. A hypothesis should not be thought of as labour from an individual, but a development from the previous, and a foundation for the future.