A theory about pets

The following formative assessment is a way to get students to try to apply their understanding of how to evaluate a theory by applying the TEACUP acronym. 

A reminder - TEACUP asks students so assess whether the theory is testable, the quality of evidence, whether the theory could be applied in a narrow or broader manner, whether the constructs are well operationalized and measurable, whether the theory and its research us unbiased and if the theory has predictive validity.

I gave my students about twenty minutes for this assessment.  Some of their responses are summarized below.

The task

Before students begin answering the prompt below, it would be good to remind them of the key strategies to evaluate a theory.  The handout has a table that they should fill in.  This will hopefully prime them in order to answer the prompt more effectively.

Prompt: Crane (2016) has proposed the theory that a close relationship with a pet in childhood has the greatest influence on whether one is able to have meaningful, romantic relationships in adulthood.

Using at least two of the strategies of TEACUP to guide you, do you think that this is a good theory?  Why or why not?

Student copy


It would be very difficult to argue that this is a great theory. Here are some of my students' responses related to the different aspects of TEACUP. I have edited the responses to make their meaning clearer.

Testable: It would be impossible to test this using the experimental method.  First, it would be impossible to standardize a procedure so that everyone had exactly the same pet experience as a child.  In addition, there is too much waiting time before an adult relationship would form. Finally, relationships are often formed by chance.  It is about who you happen to meet.  So, there would be no way to establish a control that would allow us to establish that the relationship with a pet actually caused or "has the greatest influence" on having a meaningful relationship.

Evidence: I think that there are many examples where this seems to be true.  I think that a lot of people that have pets learn about commitment and love of someone besides themselves.  However, this is only anecdotal data.  It is also based on people talking about their relationship with pets, so we cannot be really sure how close the relationship with the pet actually was. They may not remember exactly that their relationship was not as good as they think.

Application:  It is unclear what the value of this theory would be.  If someone was struggling with finding a partner, would the response be "You should have had a pet?"  Or, would people then need to have pets for their children so that they don't grow up to be alone?  It appears that this theory may end up explaining something, but it could not really be applied in any meaningful way to help people who struggle with relationships.

Constructs: The most obvious problem with this theory is that the variables cannot be measured. How do we measure the level of "meaningfulness" or "romance" in a relationship?  And how do we measure the "closeness" of a relationship with a pet that someone had in their childhood?

Unbiased: There are several biases in this theory.  First, it makes it sound like a "romantic" relationship is the best kind of relationship.  It may be that in some cultures romance is not seen as important.  In addition, pets are also a big part of Western culture. In the Czech Republic, it seems that everyone has a dog.  However, in some cultures, like in Afghanistan, it is not the norm to have a pet.  Does that mean that Afghans cannot have romantic relationships?  Even in the West, pets are a symbol of class - middle and upper class.  The poor often cannot afford a pet.

Predictive: Even if we only look at anecdotal data, it would be difficult to say that this theory would have predictive validity.  There are too many other variables that could affect whether someone has a meaningful relationship.  This may include their personality, education, personal expectations or religious beliefs. One cannot say that people that have dogs as kids will have husbands as adults.

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Comments 4

Jette Hannibal 17 May 2018 - 10:00

Great exercise!

John Crane 18 May 2018 - 05:23

Thanks, Jette!

Hilary Rowark 8 September 2018 - 11:47

love it - my next lesson planned! how do you think of these things?

John Crane 9 September 2018 - 06:53

LOL - that is why I wake up in the middle of the night!