On nomological validity and auxiliary assumptions: The importance of simultaneously testing effects in social cognitive theories applied to health behavior and some guidelines
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Tests of social cognitive theories provide informative data on the factors that relate to health behavior, and the processes and mechanisms involved. In the present article, we contend that tests of social cognitive theories should adhere to the principles of nomological validity, defined as the degree to which predictions in a formal theoretical network are confirmed. We highlight the importance of nomological validity tests to ensure theory predictions can be disconfirmed through observation. We argue that researchers should be explicit on the conditions that lead to theory disconfirmation, and identify any auxiliary assumptions on which theory effects may be conditional. We contend that few researchers formally test the nomological validity of theories, or outline conditions that lead to model rejection and the auxiliary assumptions that may explain findings that run counter to hypotheses, raising potential for 'falsification evasion.' We present a brief analysis of studies (k = 122) testing four key social cognitive theories in health behavior to illustrate deficiencies in reporting theory tests and evaluations of nomological validity. Our analysis revealed that few articles report explicit statements suggesting that their findings support or reject the hypotheses of the theories tested, even when findings point to rejection. We illustrate the importance of explicit a priori specification of fundamental theory hypotheses and associated auxiliary assumptions, and identification of the conditions which would lead to rejection of theory predictions. We also demonstrate the value of confirmatory analytic techniques, meta-analytic structural equation modeling, and Bayesian analyses in providing robust converging evidence for nomological validity. We provide a set of guidelines for researchers on how to adopt and apply the nomological validity approach to testing health behavior models. © 2017 Hagger, Gucciardi and Chatzisarantis.
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