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Applying
theories

Applying theories

Whereas some students’ projects involve creating theory, far more consist of applying existing theory to new situations. Here are four examples.

A seven-factor theory of intelligence: The model of human ability offered by Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner proposes that intelligence is not a singular, unified personal power which operates with equal effectiveness in all aspects of life. Instead, intelligence is more accurately conceived to be seven separate types of ability or intelligences that make their separate contributions to the adequacy of people’s performance in life’s endeavors. The seven focus on (1) use of language, (2) logical-mathematical analysis, (3) spatial representation, (4) musical thinking, (5) the use of the body to solve problems or to make things, (6) an understanding of other individuals (a form of social intelligence), and (7) an understanding of oneself ( Gardner, 1983, 1991).

An elementary school teacher, for her master’s degree in education, creates activities for third-grade pupils that offer them practice in each of Gardner’s seven types of intelligence. The aim of the activities is to a promote children’s development in all seven types of aptitude. She entitles her project “A Frames-ofMind Curriculum for Third Graders.

Social-exchange theory: According to social-exchange theory, an individual who benefits from another person’s acts is obligated to reciprocate by furnishing benefits to that person in turn. For many common types of social interaction, proper exchange is dictated by cultural tradition in the form of expectations about fairness, expectations that assume the form of exchange norms. Such norms are adopted in a culture as devices for coercing the parties in a social transaction to abide by what is considered fair. Members of society impose social pressure to encourage people to comply with those norms. The extent to which people abide by exchange norms influences their status in the society’s hierarchy of respect, prestige, and power. “When fairness does not occur [that is, when the norms are violated], the norms compel the party who fails to be fair to accept a degradation of status in the group as compensation for the imbalance” ( Eve, 1986, p. 189).

A doctoral student in sociology intends to use social-exchange theory as the lens through which to study the rules that guide social interaction among members of a college sorority and among members of a college fraternity. The purpose is to discover (a) ways in which the sorority and fraternity are alike and different in their social-exchange attitudes and (b) individual differences among members within each of these societies in their social-exchange practices.

A theory of historical revisionism: This theory is founded on the proposition that whenever a radical change of political power occurs, the newly installed leaders seek to revise historical records in order to legitimatize their right to govern and to cast their organization and efforts in a highly favorable light.

As an application of the theory to a new case, and to reveal conditions that affect the way the theory manifests itself in a particular instance, a political-science student plans to inspect histories of Cuba written by Cubans prior to Fidel Castro’s rise to power and ones written in Cuba after he became head of the government.

 

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