What is a Hypothesis?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A hypothesis is an explanation for a phenomenon that can be tested in some way that ideally either proves or disproves it. For the duration of testing, the hypothesis is taken to be true, and the goal of the researcher is to rigorously test its terms. The concept is a very important part of the scientific method, and it also holds true in other disciplines as well. For example, some historians have put forward the hypothesis that the Salem Witch Trials were brought about by the consumption of grains contaminated with ergot, resulting in a mass hysteria.

Some hypotheses can be expressed as a mathematical formula.
Some hypotheses can be expressed as a mathematical formula.

When someone formulates a hypothesis, he or she does so with the intention of testing it, and he or she should not know the outcome of potential tests before the hypothesis is made. When formulating a hypothesis, the ideals of the scientific method are often kept in mind, so it is designed to be testable in a way that could be replicated by other people. It is also kept clear and simple, and the hypothesis relies on known information and reasoning.

Hypotheses are often tested in laboratory conditions.
Hypotheses are often tested in laboratory conditions.

A hypothesis does not have to be right or wrong, but the person formulating it does have to be prepared to test the theory to its limits. If someone hypothesizes that exposure to X causes Y in lab rats, for example, he or she must see if exposure to other things also causes Y. When scientists publish results which support a hypothesis, they often detail the steps they took to try to disprove it as well as the steps that confirmed it, to make the case that much stronger.

In some instances, a hypothesis turns out to be wrong, and this is considered perfectly acceptable, because it still furthers the cause of science. In the example above, for instance, by showing that exposure to X does not cause Y, a scientist can illustrate that further research on Y is needed. In this example, the fact that the hypothesis is wrong does not necessarily mean that substance X is safe, because substance X could still cause something else.

It is also possible for a hypothesis to turn out to be inconclusive after testing. This can be because a scientist lacks the necessary tools for the testing, suggesting that advanced scientific techniques could be used in the future to test the idea. It can also be the result of not having enough information, or a hypothesis that is simply poorly formed and hard to test.

A hypothesis that turns out to be wrong is still considered positive, as it furthers the cause of science.
A hypothesis that turns out to be wrong is still considered positive, as it furthers the cause of science.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Munirahmadmughal Mughal

The article is informative, lucid and easy to understand. I have quoted it in my own lecture while explaining theories of arrest and detention.


I need the hypothesis of the influence of mother tongue on academics performance urgently.


thanks but not very clear and should also be a little in-depth. In an academic writing or a long essay, how does a hypothesis come?

Very good piece but i think should include examples.


great, straightforward definition. very useful


Thanks for the help as stated, clear and direct.


thank you for telling me what a hypothesis is. Thanks again.


Good and to the point explanation. Thanks.


I did not get about the name of the technique involving the testing of a hypothesis but the information given is very useful.


gosh that really helped. I am doing a really hard science test review and I'm really anxious so thanks so much. i cannot fully express my appreciation!


Thank you for telling me what a hypothesis is. i got much knowledge about it.


Thanks for helping me. it's related to my thesis.


thanks dudes.


thanks guys. I really needed this! appreciate it.


thanks guys. I'm doing a science project that's due this monday and i had no clue what hypothesis meant. I appreciate it! much love XD


I'm doing a science fair project. Could you tell me where the hypothesis goes, like before or after the ingredients?


Thank you for telling me what a hypothesis is. Great!


Very good explanation. Thanks a lot


Thanks for posting this. I really need it for my ICT homework. I don't have a clue why it's used in ICT though. I suppose I'll have to wait and see. I'm only in Year 7, that's probably why I don't know yet. Thanks again.


Thanks for your help. I was too lazy to go read through my notes.


thanks. I am doing a project and i need this meaning.


thank you for this. english is my second language so every time, i forget what hypothesis means.


Thanks, it helps me a lot.


thanks i needed this info for a science project.


thank you, very clear and easy to comprehend. :)


very helpful. cheers. x :)


Thanky ou for explaining that to me. I am at school and needed help for a big test tomorrow so thanks. =]


why are people afraid of doing experiments? you learn about everything. i don't know why people are so upright sometimes.


thanks for telling that. i'm only 10 and i needed help for science class. i have to do a report on a running experiment.


Very clear and simple explanation of what "hypothesis" means. Thanks.


I am studying nvq level 3 from home in psychology and this helped a huge amount. thank you x


This is a very good and illustrative article, I think that it contains the proper words to make the point clear. Very useful to me. Congratulations and thanks to the author.


thank you for telling me what a hypothesis is cause i'm only 10 and i needed this help for my science fair so thx again.

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