What is a Hypothesis?
A hypothesis is a tentative, testable answer to a scientific question. Once a scientist has a scientific question she is interested in, the scientist reads up to find out what is already known on the topic. Then she uses that information to form a tentative answer to her scientific question. Sometimes people refer to the tentative answer as "an educated guess." Keep in mind, though, that the hypothesis also has to be testable since the next step is to do an experiment to determine whether or not the hypothesis is right!
A hypothesis leads to one or more predictions that can be tested by experimenting.
Predictions often take the shape of "If ____then ____" statements, but do not have to. Predictions should include both an independent variable (the factor you change in an experiment) and a dependent variable (the factor you observe or measure in an experiment). A single hypothesis can lead to multiple predictions, but generally, one or two predictions is enough to tackle for a science fair project.
Examples of Hypotheses and Predictions
|How does the size of a dog affect how much food it eats?||Larger animals of the same species expend more energy than smaller animals of the same type. To get the energy their bodies need, the larger animals eat more food.||If I let a 70-pound dog and a 30-pound dog eat as much food as they want, then the 70-pound dog will eat more than the 30-pound dog.|
|Does fertilizer make a plant grow bigger?||Plants need many types of nutrients to grow. Fertilizer adds those nutrients to the soil, thus allowing plants to grow more.||If I add fertilizer to the soil of some tomato seedlings, but not others, then the seedlings that got fertilizer will grow taller and have more leaves than the non-fertilized ones.|
|Does an electric motor turn faster if you increase the current?||Electric motors work because they have electromagnets inside them, which push/pull on permanent magnets and make the motor spin. As more current flows through the motor's electromagnet, the strength of the magnetic field increases, thus turning the motor faster.||If I increase the current supplied to an electric motor, then the RPMs (revolutions per minute) of the motor will increase.|
|Is a classroom noisier when the teacher leaves the room?||Teachers have rules about when to talk in the classroom. If they leave the classroom, the students feel free to break the rules and talk more, making the room nosier.||If I measure the noise level in a classroom when a teacher is in it and when she leaves the room, then I will see that the noise level is higher when my teacher is not in my classroom.|
What if My Hypothesis is Wrong?
What happens if, at the end of your science project, you look at the data you have collected and you realize it does not support your hypothesis? First, do not panic! The point of a science project is not to prove your hypothesis right. The point is to understand more about how the natural world works. Or, as it is sometimes put, to find out the scientific truth. When scientists do an experiment, they very often have data that shows their starting hypothesis was wrong. Why? Well, the natural world is complex—it takes a lot of experimenting to figure out how it works—and the more explanations you test, the closer you get to figuring out the truth. For scientists, disproving a hypothesis still means they gained important information, and they can use that information to make their next hypothesis even better. In a science fair setting, judges can be just as impressed by projects that start out with a faulty hypothesis; what matters more is whether you understood your science fair project, had a well-controlled experiment, and have ideas about what you would do next to improve your project if you had more time. You can read more about a science fair judge's view on disproving your hypothesis here.
It is worth noting, scientists never talk about their hypothesis being "right" or "wrong." Instead, they say that their data "supports" or "does not support" their hypothesis. This goes back to the point that nature is complex—so complex that it takes more than a single experiment to figure it all out because a single experiment could give you misleading data. For example, let us say that you hypothesize that earthworms do not exist in places that have very cold winters because it is too cold for them to survive. You then predict that you will find earthworms in the dirt in Florida, which has warm winters, but not Alaska, which has cold winters. When you go and dig a 3-foot by 3-foot-wide and 1-foot-deep hole in the dirt in those two states, you discover Floridian earthworms, but not Alaskan ones. So, was your hypothesis right? Well, your data "supported" your hypothesis, but your experiment did not cover that much ground. Can you really be sure there are no earthworms in Alaska? No. Which is why scientists only support (or not) their hypothesis with data, rather than proving them. And for the curious, yes there are earthworms in Alaska.
|What Makes a Good Hypothesis?||For a Good Hypothesis, You Should Answer "Yes" to Every Question|
|Is the hypothesis based on information from reference materials about the topic?||Yes / No|
|Can at least one clear prediction be made from the hypothesis?||Yes / No|
|Are predictions resulting from the hypothesis testable in an experiment?||Yes / No|
|Does the prediction have both an independent variable (something you change) and a dependent variable (something you observe or measure)?||Yes / No|
Educator Tools for Teaching about Hypotheses
Using our Google Classroom Integration, educators can assign a quiz to test student understanding of hypotheses. Educators can also assign students an online submission form to fill out detailing the hypothesis of their science project.
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The American Heritage Dictionary defines a hypothesis as, "a tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation." This means a hypothesis is the stepping stone to a soon-to-be proven theory. For a hypothesis to be considered a scientific hypothesis, it must be proven through the scientific method. Like anything else in life, there are many paths to take to get to the same ending. Let's take a look at the different types of hypotheses that can be employed when seeking to prove a new theory.
Types of Hypothesis
First, we must take a moment to define independent and dependent variables. Simply put, an independent variable is the cause and the dependent variable is the effect. The independent variable can be changed whereas the dependent variable is what you're watching for change. For example: How does the amount of makeup one applies affect how clear their skin is? Here, the independent variable is the makeup and the dependent variable is the skin.
The six most common forms of hypotheses are:
- Simple Hypothesis
- Complex Hypothesis
- Empirical Hypothesis
- Null Hypothesis (Denoted by "HO")
- Alternative Hypothesis (Denoted by "H1")
- Logical Hypothesis
- Statistical Hypothesis
A simple hypothesis is a prediction of the relationship between two variables: the independent variable and the dependent variable.
- Drinking sugary drinks daily leads to obesity.
A complex hypothesis examines the relationship between two or more independent variables and two or more dependent variables.
Overweight adults who 1) value longevity and 2) seek happiness are more likely than other adults to 1) lose their excess weight and 2) feel a more regular sense of joy.
A null hypothesis (H0) exists when a researcher believes there is no relationship between the two variables, or there is a lack of information to state a scientific hypothesis. This is something to attempt to disprove or discredit.
There is no significant change in my health during the times when I drink green tea only or root beer only.
This is where the alternative hypothesis (H1) enters the scene. In an attempt to disprove a null hypothesis, researchers will seek to discover an alternative hypothesis.
My health improves during the times when I drink green tea only, as opposed to root beer only.
A logical hypothesis is a proposed explanation possessing limited evidence. Generally, you want to turn a logical hypothesis into an empirical hypothesis, putting your theories or postulations to the test.
Cacti experience more successful growth rates than tulips on Mars. (Until we're able to test plant growth in Mars' ground for an extended period of time, the evidence for this claim will be limited and the hypothesis will only remain logical.)
An empirical hypothesis, or working hypothesis, comes to life when a theory is being put to the test, using observation and experiment. It's no longer just an idea or notion. It's actually going through some trial and error, and perhaps changing around those independent variables.
- Roses watered with liquid Vitamin B grow faster than roses watered with liquid Vitamin E. (Here, trial and error is leading to a series of findings.)
A statistical hypothesis is an examination of a portion of a population.
If you wanted to conduct a study on the life expectancy of Savannians, you would want to examine every single resident of Savannah. This is not practical. Therefore, you would conduct your research using a statistical hypothesis, or a sample of the Savannian population.
Parameters of a Good Hypothesis
In order for a hypothesis to be sound, hold tight to these tips:
Ask yourself questions.
- Brainstorm. Define the independent and dependent variables very specifically, and don't take on more than you can handle. Keep yourself laser-focused on one specific cause-and-effect theory.
Be logical and use precise language.
- Keep your language clean and simple. State your hypothesis as concisely, and to the point, as possible. A hypothesis is usually written in a form where it proposes that, if something is done, then something else will occur. Usually, you don't want to state a hypothesis as a question. You believe in something, and you're seeking to prove it. For example: If I raise the temperature of a cup of water, then the amount of sugar that can be dissolved in it will be increased.
Make sure your hypothesis is testable with research and experimentation.
- Any hypothesis will need proof. Your audience will have to see evidence and reason to believe your statement. For example, I may want to drink root beer all day, not green tea. If you're going to make me change my ways, I need some sound reasoning and experimental proof - perhaps case studies of others who lost weight, cleared up their skin, and had a marked improvement in their immunity by drinking green tea.
State Your Case
Scientists can really change the world with their hypotheses and findings. In an effort to improve the world we live in, all it takes is an initial hypothesis that is well-stated, founded in truth, and can withstand extensive research and experimentation. Seek out your independent and dependent variables and go on out here and make this world a better place. Good luck!