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Theories play a vitally important part in guiding any scientific research, organizing and making sense of the scientific research findings. The purpose of this paper will look at the nature and types of theories, as well as the relationship between theory and research, including three important opinions of theory: reductionism, instrumentalism and realism. This paper will also discuss the difference between theory, and related concepts, such as paradigm, concept, model and hypothesis are assessed. The conception of theory and the relationship with research will be discussed. The paper will continue by exploring the quantitative and qualitative methods of research that contribute to theory. Finally, the paper will explore the identified theory, the contributions, and controversies.
Nature and Types of Theory – Part 1
Theories have proven fundamental in research because they provide a foundation basis and robust methodology necessary for any research. Many researchers have expounded on the importance, definition, and constitution of a theory. Wacker (1998) argued that a theory is relevant because it explains a given phenomenon; it is an analytical framework of research and an efficient technique in field development. There are different opinions on what a theory with many theorists such as Wacker (1998), Gelso (2006), Stam (2010) and Thomas (2017), having varying perspectives on what a theory is and what makes up a theory. A theory is a prediction or explanation of a phenomenon and the interactions of its variables (Thomas, 2017).
According to Stam, (2010), a theory is not absolute. Therefore, there are constructs across various disciplines that define a theory (Stam, 2010). According to Gelso (2006), a theory composed of eight constructs: testability, delimitation; integration; clarity; explanatory power; descriptive ability; comprehensiveness; and heuristic value. Gelso also viewed a theory as an independent object, made up of internal variables, which may not be affected by external factors (Gelso, 2006). Thus, both authors explained that theory as either a closed independent object or an open object where its internal variables are interdependent. Conversely, Harlow (2009) argues that a theory is a system of laws that enable the understanding of phenomena.
According to Wacker (1998), there are different opinions on theory, despite the similarity in the belief of various disciplines. This implies that a theory can degenerate, and if it lacks practicability, then it is of no use in solving the complex problems in the real world. Therefore, the author argued that to determine what a good theory is, it is essential to understand its main components of a theory. That is the definition of a theory, the contents of the variables and their relationship, the applicability of the theory, and the predictability and factuality of the theory (Wacker, 1998).
First, Wacker (1998) claimed a theory is abstract. This implies that for a theory to be a good theory, it does not have to be used. To back up this author’s claim, the theory part of the definition, that is, it is possible for a hypothesis to be abstract and non-applicable depending on its definition. Second, Wacker (1998) meant that scientific investigation is unnecessary for domain development. This implies that to build a good theory will not need to involve systematic approaches; a better theory will acquire the systematic approaches through trial and error. Third, Wacker (1998) implored that, not unless a theory has a measurability element, it is not a theory. This research approaches on good theory came from Churchman statement, where he stated that inventory theories were not theories because they neglected to show how the inventory theories are measurable (Wacker, 1998, p.362). This approach assumes for a theory to be considered a good theory, the theory must have a measurability element (Stam, 2000).
The above approaches show that it is only logical to refer to a theory as a good theory by defining the theory and the criteria for it to be a good theory. These statements raise a concern in various academic disciplines because of the criticism they infer is abstract and non-applicable; the building process for good theory will acquire through trial and error; and theory must be measurable (Wacker, 1998). Nonetheless, each holds a measure of truth; it is imperative that complex phenomena be explained to uplift the limitations of theory building development. This way, theories will promote efficiency in field developments, provide clear explanations of phenomena and define an analytical framework in research (Udo-Akang, 2012).
Paradigm, Concept, Model, and Hypothesis
Weick (1995) argued that theory is usually complicated, and it is often confused with other terms like paradigm, concept, model, and hypothesis. Mink (1992) described a paradigm as a conceptual framework or a system of beliefs, practices, assumptions, and views that makes up the methods and values of research. It furnishes a framework of what is possible or impossible and what is necessary or unnecessary. A hypothesis is an assumption taken to be true with a predictive value that can explain a phenomenon through observation or previously held knowledge. A hypothesis is a component of a theory, but it is testable, unlike a theory that may not. A model is a representation of a theory or its components; and used in the process of theory building (Shoemaker, Tankard & Lasorsa, 2004). However, a model does not explain things; it is a structural design that demonstrates a method to explore a theory. A theoretical concept is the description of a theory; this concept is the foundation block that describes the interpretation of data, the relation, and compared with the items of study. It is not a theory, but a description method of theoretical research (Thomas, 2017).
Constitutes a Theory
According to Rychlak, he suggested that theory had four roles: descriptive, delimiting, generative and integrate Gelso (2006). First, Gelso (2006), a theory is descriptive; it can explain a phenomenon and process, and provide solutions to a problem. Second, Gelso (2006), a theory is delimitation; it sets a maxim of solutions to a problem that drawn from what is known. Third, Gelso (2006), a theory is a contribution to knowledge; theories play an essential role in the generation of new information. Fourth, Gelso (2006), a theory is the coherence; a theory should have an interactive element within itself and other disciplines to establish validity in existing knowledge.
Different scholars such as Gelso (2006), Harlow (2009) and Wacker (1998) have offered different opinions of what makes up a theory. Gelso (2006) believed it was necessary to understand the constructs because they enabled theory refinement and that the refinement was through research. Harlow (2009) held that the theory aimed to determine a set of laws and not necessarily have a fixed meaning. Wacker (1998) expounded on the definitions of theory, and how they were bound to the essential components of the theory. On the other, Stam (2010) and Sharma (2013) held three important opinions of theory: reductionism, instrumentalism, and realism.
Everything is divided into separate components: it is possible that the components comprise of substitutes; solving the partial problems of the components will help solve the problems of the whole system; and the system is the sum of all its parts (Sharma, 2013). Instrumentalism depicts that a theory is an instrument that provides understanding to the user. In essence, a theory should have to explain or predict a phenomenon rather than having the phenomenon used to express a particular reality. Realism states that science can describe the world, that is, it is possible for a researcher to make predictions of things that they cannot observe. For example, there is no way to observe the phenomenon expressed in the Copernicus Heliocentric theory which states that the Earth revolves around the sun (Stam, 2010). 43 11
A scientific theory is one that has been tested and confirmed through experiments and observation to provide a substantiated explanation on a body of facts. Broad theories may comprise of common theories, which are guesses, and therefore, they may not be scientifically useful because the research they generate does not contradict their validity. Theories exist by objectivity, formality, abstraction, realism, and perspective (Gelso, 2006). For example, mini-theories may exist as theoretical statements or as parts of a broader system. This is not to say that they are only useful within an existing system. Mini-theories can exist on their own, separate from the broader system even they remain connected (Pezzini, 2013).
Relationship between Theory and Research – Part 2
A theory provides a conceptual framework in research by explaining observations made on phenomena. Research defined as the systematic process of gathering and analyzing data to increase an understanding of a particular phenomenon. However, this process can only be considered as research if it has the potential of creating new knowledge (Ellis & Levy, 2008). The relationship that exists between theory and research are interdependent because they are involved in theory development and fact’s identification. Wacker argued that the foundation of research is the theory, and to enhance the refinement of the theory through research (Wacker, 1998). Therefore, the interrelationship of theory and research provide explanations an understanding of a phenomenon.
The research aims to gather and analyze new information to contribute to a new body of knowledge. Harlow (2009) argued that it is impossible to develop a theory without testing and therefore, this process known as ‘reintroduction’ allows research to develop a new theory or the testing of a theory. Harlow introduced this process as a way to describe the contribution of theory to research and research to theory (Harlow, 2009). Ideally, this process would involve the testing of theoretical ideas against new information with the attempt of providing new and trustworthy conclusions. Thus, the development and testing of a theory are the foundation of the relationship between research and theory.
The unifying element in this unique relationship between research and theory is the problem definition. The problem statement is the centerpiece of any research. The problem statement generates the research questions. Typically, a research project starts with a literature review and theoretical explanations that explain the research topic. The theory applied or developed determines the choice of case studies of the selected, method of collecting data, and how to analyze the data is collected. Testing a theory differs from developing a theory. Building a theory takes more than one case study to create propositions, constructs, abstractions, and variables that can provide empirical evidence and this would-be inductive research (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). There have been many discussions about the benefits of inductive and deductive research. An inductive theory develops a new theory from other case studies while a deductive theory involves testing a theory using research data. While the deductive theory has great potential because it proposes new constructs, some researchers agree that deductive theory can be helpful in the advancement of science (Holton & Lowe, 2007).
Qualitative and Quantitative Research Contributes to Theory
There are two methods of research, namely: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative research is primarily meant to explore more research. It is used to provide more understanding of the reasons or/and provide insights into solving problems by developing new ideas. Quantitative research is the collection and analyzing of numerical data that required to use statistical techniques to measure the results of the research (Creswell, 2009). Each of these methods of research contributes to theory and can be applied jointly to the same research. The research aims to provide solutions to a problem or merely explain a complex phenomenon. Both methods of research address differently, the more in-depth understanding of a given phenomenon. 37 12
Qualitative research aimed to provide a better understanding of the reasons, and opinions that are emulated in human behavior. Over the past decades, research in management has used qualitative methods to address management issues or give insight into various topics and discussions. Qualitative research is specific. That is, it starts at a center position and addresses why this happens as they do. A better understanding of qualitative research is a more in-depth exploration of issues to become more knowledgeable. The exploration may include topics such as religion, governance, politics, and management, among others. Even though quantitative research may also address the same issues, there is little discussion over a specific case, unlike qualitative that has more options of depth inquiry on case studies (Nuttall, Shankar, Beverland & Hooper, 2011).
Qualitative and quantitative research can address the same case, but in different depth. Qualitative research has proven to push the limits of quantitative research (Doz, 2011). This is because qualitative research addresses past numerical data, it can focus on hidden aspects of sensitive topics and provide new information that can formulate new theories. For example, one may observe kidnapping of children from the side corner of a town. There are some children kidnapped, the frequency at which these kidnappings are occurring; this is quantitative research. However, the broader issue is why the kidnapping of children is happening in that specific street corner in that specific town. This in-depth explanation to reveal why there are the kidnapping of children at that specific street corner, and how to prevent these kidnappings.
The insightful contribution of the qualitative research is paramount is theory testing and development. Qualitative research can provide rich insights of phenomena and enhance the refinement of constructs and concepts. Qualitative research answers the hard questions in research, which may contribute to the interactions between variables and the process of theory testing. Again, it is easier to build theories through qualitative research because of the rich description of facts and concepts discovered during the research.
Similarly, quantitative research explains phenomena by analyzing the numerical data using statistically categorized in measurable forms. The application of measurability in quantitative research allows for the specific access to information. This means that each analyzed bundle of information sets a trend that can be observed and used to make future predictions; hence, enhancing theory development. Many companies in operations management apply the trend analysis because the collected information allows for future predictability, which in turn contributes to the refinement of theories (Du & Kamakura, 2012).
Nonetheless, seven constructs developed to describe the importance of research in explaining the theory. They included the establishment of a causal relationship; examination of the element; method of creating a product through developmental study; construct development; predictive model development; efficacy evaluation; an examination of the impact of time on the nature of the documented problem in a longitudinal study (Ellis & Levy, 2008). Qualitative and Quantitative research both contribute richly to the testing, development, and refinement of the theory.
Reduction (Theory) Contribution to Psychology (Field of Study) – Part 3
Among the theory views discussed include those by Stam, namely reductionism, instrumentalism, and realism. According to Stam, a complex system comprises of components; and that understanding individual parts will help understand the whole system (Stam, 2007). Reductionism can contribute immensely to Health and Social science, such as Psychology. A proposed research topic would be, ‘The impact of Reductionism and Holism in Psychology.’ From a reductionist perspective in psychology, this would mean that to understand human behavior, which in this case is the complex system, we must reduce it to its components. From the holistic perspective, this would mean that the whole system is more critical than the summation of its components.
The application of reductionism in psychology is based on the assumption of parsimony. This indicates that to understand why human beings behave as the way we do, the simplex principles must be explained to understand human behavior. Looking deeper into aspects such as behaviorism and biological elements of psychology, this is clear that reductions apply to solving psychological problems. Psychology uses quantitative and qualitative methods to understand the causes and effects to determine the problem. For example, behaviorists argue that behavior gained from learning and observing. By understanding the relationship between stimulus and responses, the behaviorists can explain our human behavior.
The abnormality is a human being is also explained from a biological perspective using reductionism. In psychology, any types of mental problems or mental illnesses are considered a disease, which means these mental problems or illnesses are treatable with medicine. On this basis, it implies that chemical imbalances in the brain cause mental illnesses, to neutralize the chemical imbalances by taking medicine (McLeod, 2008). Reductionism uses throughout the three levels in psychology. That is the highest level, middle level, and the lowest level. The highest level offer’s explanations for behavior as influenced by the status of living and the environment. The middle level focuses on the cognitive, behavioral and sociocultural explanations for human behavior. The lowest level explains human behavior regarding genes, neurochemical and the brain structure.
On the other hand, holistic psychology focuses more overall rather than the sum of the components. In this case, qualitative methods are applied to bring a clear perspective on the holistic approach. Holistic approach acknowledges that a system may have different levels, because some components of their emergent properties are not explainable through reductionism. Most importantly, is the fact that it is entirely inappropriate to use reductionism to study human behavior while the whole person is the emergent property at hand. The human behavior must be approached from a holistic position because there is some sense in trying to comprehend anything that is done by anybody.
Controversy and Criticisms Related to the Reductionism
Stam (2007) argues for his theory view that four principles guided his theory view. These principles are then separated into the different components; these different components have substitutes; a solution to a partial problem can help solve the whole problem; and the whole system is just but a sum of all its components (Stam, 2007). The holistic approach has challenged these principles, by stating that the whole is more than just the sum of all parts. With this said, reductionism has its benefits in understanding human behavior, but there has been some criticisms and controversies surrounding this approach in Psychology.
Reductionists have argued that this approach is scientific; that it is possible to offer a scientific explanation of the individual parts of the system. However, some researchers have challenged the validity of this argument (McLeod, 2008). For example, the brain’s response to a stimulus in the environment, and this reaction is seen under the view of a scanner. A case could be music; good music that may inspire happiness, and lousy music may inspire fear. Under the view of a scanner, the viewer can see the brain’s response to the two different types of music; however, it does not reveal the actual feeling of the person. Therefore, just because the brain inspires a sense of happiness does not mean that a person feels happy. Thus, reductionism cannot measure a person’s feelings.
Reductionism embraces the relationship between stimulus and response; by identifying the stimulus that resulted in the response, this explains human behavior. For example, some people are scared of spiders, and if they see a huge spider, they will run out so fast away from the spider. In this case, reductionist would argue that the fear of spiders stimulated the person’s behavior, that is, running out so fast. What this approach does not address is why the individual is afraid of spiders in the first place. The ‘why’ aspect would give a more profound explanation to understand precisely why the person fears spiders, and why the person responds as what the person does toward the spiders.
Reductionism can also result in incomplete explanations. For example, mental illnesses are considered a disease by the reductionist; and that it is treatable by drugs, but there exists an imbalance of chemicals within the brain. Even while this may be true, other reasons can cause mental disorders. Social factors influence mental health and understanding the social triggers in a person’s life can help understand why they are having mental problems. This is not to say that reductionism is not useful; it is because it gives a partial explanation, but a comprehensive description and diagnosis would explain better a person’s mental illness.
Many psychologists have recommended a new approach known as interactionism as an alternative to reductionism. Interactionism differs from reductionism because it concentrates on the interactions of the different components within a system (McLeod, 2008). For example, reductionism focuses on mental illness as a single element, a disease. Interactionism addresses mental disorders and illnesses by focusing on all factors that may cause a person to have a mental illness such as depression factors including social, cultural, cognitive, and physiological factors. This approach will reveal the treatment of mental disorder by use of medication; explain why specific population experiences high frequencies of mental illnesses and explains why people with depression feel and think differently about themselves and the world.