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Study Notes

Aims and Hypotheses

AS, A Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Observations of events or behaviour in our surroundings provoke questions as to why they occur. In turn, one or multiple theories might attempt to explain a phenomenon, and investigations are consequently conducted to test them. One observation could be that athletes tend to perform better when they have a training partner, and a theory might propose that this is because athletes are more motivated with peers around them.

The aim of an investigation, driven by a theory to explain a given observation, states the intent of the study in general terms. Continuing the above example, the consequent aim might be “to investigate the effect of having a training partner on athletes’ motivation levels”.

The theory attempting to explain an observation will help to inform hypotheses - predictions of an investigation’s outcome that make specific reference to the independent variables (IVs) manipulated and dependent variables (DVs) measured by the researchers.

There are two types of hypothesis:

  • -H1 – Research hypothesis
  • -H0 – Null hypothesis

H1 – The Research Hypothesis

This predicts a statistically significant effect of an IV on a DV (i.e. an experiment), or a significant relationship between variables (i.e. a correlation study), e.g.

  • In an experiment: “Athletes who have a training partner are likely to score higher on a questionnaire measuring motivation levels than athletes who train alone.”
  • In a correlation study: ‘There will be a significant positive correlation between athletes’ motivation questionnaire scores and the number of partners athletes train with.”

The research hypothesis will be directional (one-tailed) if theory or existing evidence argues a particular ‘direction’ of the predicted results, as demonstrated in the two hypothesis examples above.

Non-directional (two-tailed) research hypotheses do not predict a direction, so here would simply predict “a significant difference” between questionnaire scores in athletes who train alone and with a training partner (in an experiment), or “a significant relationship” between questionnaire scores and number of training partners (in a correlation study).

H0 – The Null Hypothesis

This predicts that a statistically significant effect or relationship will not be found, e.g.

  • In an experiment: “There will be no significant difference in motivation questionnaire scores between athletes who train with and without a training partner.”
  • In a correlation study: “There will be no significant relationship between motivation questionnaire scores and the number of partners athletes train with.”

When the investigation concludes, analysis of results will suggest that either the research hypothesis or null hypothesis can be retained, with the other rejected. Ultimately this will either provide evidence to support of refute the theory driving a hypothesis, and may lead to further research in the field.


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