What are Paradigms?
By paradigm or framework (or perspective), I believe you’re referring to a set ideas or assumptions of how human behavior and experience should be understood. For example, the cognitive paradigm regards the user to be an information processor that takes in sensory data and manipulates it to arrive at a judgement and decision to act. The behavioral paradigm regards the user to act as a function of a history of environmental conditions (mostly, users do whatever they were rewarded for doing before, although no hard-core behaviorist would use language like that). There’re also psychodynamic and humanistic paradigms, and some define others (e.g., biological, and, I guess, Vygotsky; new one for me).
Psychology paradigms are bigger than psychology subject areas, such as cognitive psychology (study of perception, attention, memory etc.) and social psychology (study of the influence of people on each other). Paradigms direct the researchers towards causal factors in whatever subject area they are studying. For example, one could study user behavior with either a cognitive paradigm or behavioral paradigm. The cognitive paradigm would see behavior as due to a decision process fed by information from the user’s perceptual and recall processes. The behavioral paradigm would see behavior as function of frequency and recency of the reinforcements (i.e., rewards) for that sort of behavior.
You may think UX is mostly cognitive paradigm, but really it’s a lot of cognitive subject area, not a paradigm. Judging from most of the questions on this site, our biggest challenge is making web sites and apps comprehendible to users, so we tend to think and talk about influencers of perception and understanding (e.g., gestalt principles and priming effects), which are in cognitive psychology.
OP’s Wife is Correct
If, as a UXer reading this, you find the above paradigms rather alien, that’s because paradigms are not really relevant in UX. UX does not fit in any of the traditional academic psychology paradigms. This is pretty much true of fields of applied psychology, such as engineering psychology, consumer psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, and educational psychology (but, significantly, not necessarily clinical and counseling psychology, which have the bulk of applied psychologists). Instead of having a single paradigm to define our perspective of user experience, UXers, like many kinds of applied psychologists, peruse a toolbox of theories and principles (like Gestalt), methods (like measuring reaction time to the millisecond), and known phenomena (like priming) that we apply whenever one looks helpful without any regard for (or even awareness of) philosophical consistency.
I believe applied psychology in general and UX in particular is better off with tools rather than paradigms. Even counseling and clinical psychologists may have more success if they are “eclectic” or hybrids (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapists), rather than dogmatically remaining in a single paradigm. And tools can come from anywhere. I don’t see Hicks or Fitts as being of the behavioral paradigm or any psychological paradigm. Both are applications of information theory, which is a tool from outside psychology entirely. Maybe regarding these formulas from a behavioral paradigm could improve our research just because it could provide a new way of understanding them, but the same could be said regarding the cognitive paradigm.
Some academics could argue for decades over whether a user failed to click a link due a perception-memory-decision-making process or a history of environmental reinforcements. To such academics, the two alternative explanations are clearly incompatible due to their roots in opposing histories and philosophies of science. However, I think to us as practitioners, it’s self-evident that both are right. The user didn’t click the link because it looked like an advertisement. The chain of causation had both informational factors (the ad had the shape and position of a banner ad) and reinforcement factors (users have been “burned” by banner ads often enough that they avoid them). Which factor we focus on is simply a matter of which we can control: it’s easier for us to change the appearance of the link than create rewards for clicking banners ads on other sites in the users’ environment, so we deal with the perception, not the reinforcement history.
Ascribing to a paradigm is like putting on a blindfold and feeling an elephant. You end up with a limited and unrealistic picture. The lesson of paradigms for applied psychology and UX is on what to avoid. One should question one’s assumptions and always be open to new perspectives. We can always use a new tool.