Difference Between Model and Theory

Key Difference – Model vs Theory 


Models and theories have to be understood as two forms used in comprehending phenomena, and between which some differences can be identified. In various disciplines, both in the social and natural sciences, various models and theories are being used to understand phenomena. This can relate to society, individuals, the human brain, plant life, etc. Although both theories and models are used, these two are different from one another. By paying attention to the definitions of the two words, we can understand the key difference between a model and a theory. A model can be understood as a representation of something. A model provides us with a structure. On the other hand, a theory is a set of ideas that provide us an explanation to something. This is the key difference between a model and theory. This article attempts to elaborate the difference between the two. Let us begin with the word model.

What is a Model?

A model can simply be defined as an example of something. A model provides the individual with a structural representation of the phenomenon, allowing him to gain a fuller understanding of it. In various disciplines, models are used to comprehend the phenomena. This allows the individual to build his theory based on the constructed model. In some cases, models are used by scientists to support their ideas.

When speaking of models there are various types. There are mathematical models, analytical models, conceptual models, statistical models, etc. Having a model makes it easier for students to gain a better understanding of the concept.

Let us take an example. In the sociology of health, attention is paid to some of the models in medicine. One such model is the biomedical model. This is a conceptual model that allows the sociologist to identify a specific manner of understanding diseases, illness, and the individual. In the biomedical model, the focus is mainly on the biological factors of the person alone. It completely ignores the social and cultural factors related to health. On the contrary, the psychosocial model focuses not only on the biological factors, but also stresses the necessity of social, cultural, and psychological factors as well.

Difference Between Model and Theory

The Solar System Model 

What is a Theory?

A theory can be defined as a set of ideas that provide an explanation to a phenomenon. Once the researcher has gained sufficient data, he builds the theory based on the information that he has gathered. In some cases, the information can come in the form of a model. However, in other cases, it is through observation and analysis of data.

When formulating theories, most scientists use a proper scientific methodology so that the theory holds validity. Also, theories can be tested in order to check this validity. Theories usually do not remain the same in a field for a long period of time. Very often theories become disproven as scientists expand their horizons.

In order to comprehend the nature of theories, let us take a theory from the urban sociology. Ernest Burgess came up with the theory of concentric urban zones in 1925. According to this theory, most cities have a tendency to spread outwards like ripples on a pond. He believed that in each zone a specific class of people inhabits. In order to explain his theory, he presents a model of the city as well. This can be considered as a fine example of theory and model merging in order to explain a phenomenon.

Model vs Theory

Theory of Concentric Zones 

What is the Difference Between Model and Theory?

Definitions of Model and Theory:

Model: A model is a representation of something that provides us with a structure.

Theory: A theory is a set of ideas that provide us an explanation to something.

Characteristics of Model and Theory:


Model: A model provides with a structure.

Theory: A theory can provide us with a structure, but there is a possibility that it may not be so as well.


Model: A model provides us with a simplified understanding of a phenomenon.

Theory: A theory explains a phenomenon.


Model: A model can lay the foundation for a theory.

Theory: A theory can be used to create a physical model.


Image Courtesy:

1. A solar system model donated by Albert Einstein to Ben Shemen youth village in 1928 By Avi1111 dr. avishai teicher (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Burgess Model By Zeimusu [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons