Because social psychologists are generally interested in looking at relationships among variables, they begin by stating their predictions in the form of a precise statement known as a research hypothesis. A research hypothesis is a specific prediction about the relationship between the variables of interest and about the specific direction of that relationship. For instance, the research hypothesis “People who are more similar to each other will be more attracted to each other” predicts that there is a relationship between a variable called similarity and another variable called attraction. In the research hypothesis “The attitudes of cult members become more extreme when their beliefs are challenged,” the variables that are expected to be related are extremity of beliefs and the degree to which the cult’s beliefs are challenged.
Because the research hypothesis states both that there is a relationship between the variables and the direction of that relationship, it is said to be falsifiable, which means that the outcome of the research can demonstrate empirically either that there is support for the hypothesis (i.e., the relationship between the variables was correctly specified) or that there is actually no relationship between the variables or that the actual relationship is not in the direction that was predicted. Thus the research hypothesis that “People will be more attracted to others who are similar to them” is falsifiable because the research could show either that there was no relationship between similarity and attraction or that people we see as similar to us are seen as less attractive than those who are dissimilar.