COM 270
Introduction to Theories of Human Communication
Lecture 2: What is a Theory?

I. What is a Theory?

A. People commonly use the word "theory" to refer to a speculation or guess about something.

Lani: "I wonder why the fish aren't biting?"

Moki: "My theory is that the tide is too low."

B. From a scientific perspective, a theory is more than a guess or speculation -- a theory is an explanation of an observable phenomenon (e.g., action, event, or outcome).

C. Theories consist of:

1. Factual statements about the phenomenon being explained;

A factual statement is a claim that can proven to be true or correct.

Ex: There are more female than male students at UH Hilo.

2. Statements that identify relationships among the factual statements.

A relationship is a connection between two seperate observations.

1. Positive relationship: Two things increases or decrease together (e.g., Murder and ice cream consumptions)

2. Negative (aka Inverse) relationship: As one thing goes up, the other thing goes down (e.g., Job opportunities and university enrollment)

3. Statements that identify the causal mechanism(s) that account for the relationships among factual statements.

A causal mechanism is an entity or process that produces or brings about an outcome.

Ex: Alcohol consumption and fetal alcohol syndrome


Ex: Global Warming Theory -- Humans are causing a dangerous change in the earth's climate (General claim)

1. Factual statements

Greenhouse gases (e.g., CO2), have increased by approximately 30 percent in the last century and a half

2. Relationships

Cities with the largest increases in fossil fuel emission (e.g., automobile exhaust; factory smoke) also have the largest increases in ground temperature.

3. Causal mechanisms

Increases in fossil fuel emission (e.g., automobile exhaust) produce increases in CO2

Increases in CO2 produces increases in ground temperature.


II. Types of theories (see for a listing of the many types of theories in the social sciemces)

A. Functional theories -- explains how and why something occurs.

EXAMPLE: Newton's "Theory of Gravity"

B. Developmental theories -- explains how and why something change over time

EXAMPLE: Darwin's "Theory of Evolution"

C.What are the functional and developmental theory aspects in the song, "Love Goes Without Saying"?






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