Social and Behavioral Theories

3. Theory and Why It is Important

A theory presents a systematic way of understanding events, behaviors and/or situations.

A theory is a set of interrelated concepts, definitions, and propositions that explains or predicts events or situations by specifying relations among variables.

The notion of generality, or broad application, is important. Thus, theories are by their nature abstract and not content- or topic-specific. Even though various theoretical models of health behavior may reflect the same general ideas, each theory employs a unique vocabulary to articulate the specific factors considered to be important. Theories vary in the extent to which they have been conceptually developed and empirically tested; however, “testability” is an important feature of a theory. As Stephen Turner has noted in his chapter on “Theory Development,” social science theories are better understood as models that work in a limited range of settings, rather than laws of science which hold and apply universally.