The use of theory in the context of behavioral intervention research reflects a deductive approach. That is, a theory is specified a priori to the formal evaluation of an intervention, and testable hypotheses are derived that articulate one or more pathways by which the intervention may have its desired effects. The hypotheses reflect the expected relationships between two or more concepts of the theory that can be evaluated and indicate what is expected to be observed on the basis of the principles of the theory (DePoy & Gitlin, 2015). It is important to point out that the outcomes of intervention research can also inform or refine theories or models of behavior. That is, the use of theory in intervention work reflects in part a test of the theory itself or its specific tenets, which in turn can prove, disprove, or advance the theoretical tenets.

The deductive use of theory in behavioral intervention research is in contrast to an inductive approach. A ground-up, generative, or inductive approach is used mostly for theory development or refinement and involves constructing or building theory using primarily qualitative methodologies.

An example of the utility of a conceptual framework in structuring an intervention and deriving specific hypotheses is illustrated by Rovner and colleagues’ (2012) intervention to reduce cognitive decline in persons with a medical diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI-MD).

We based this trial on the Disablement Process Model, which is a sociomedical model that describes how medical diseases affect functioning in specific body systems and lead to disability. The model posits that disability is part of a complex relationship between health conditions and contextual (i.e. environmental and personal) factors. In this model, a MCI-MD, as a possible preclinical AD state, reflects a physiologic dysfunction that results in diminished memory and initiative (disability), where environmental factors (i.e., activity participation) may “speed up” or “slow down” this core pathway. We propose to increase activity levels and thereby “slow down” progression to disability. (Rovner et al., 2012, p. 714)

As illustrated, this deductive, a priori use of a framework leads investigators to identify a target for the intervention (e.g., in the previous case, activity level) and the selection of expected outcomes (e.g., slower progression of memory loss).

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