The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Behaviourism

Written by Hannes Nel, B. Mil; BA Hons; MBL; D. Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)


Introduction. There are a multitude of paradigms. Some of them are modifications of classical paradigms that have been slightly changed by academics. Then there are those paradigms that are not research paradigms. They may be educational, philosophical, or theoretical, but not of such a nature that they can logically serve as the foundation for academic research.

I will discuss 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research, starting with behaviourism. Your comments, criticism, additions or endorsements of the articles will be appreciated. The paradigms that I will discuss are the following:

  1. Behaviourism
  2. Constructivism
  3. Critical race theory
  4. Critical theory
  5. Empiricism
  6. Ethnomethodology
  7. Feminism
  8. Functionalism
  9. Hermeneutics
  10. Interpretivism
  11. Liberalism
  12. Modernism
  13. Neoliberalism
  14. Phenomenology
  15. Positivism
  16. Post-colonialism
  17. Post-modernism
  18. Post-positivism
  19. Post-structuralism
  20. Pragmatism
  21. Pre-modernism
  22. Radicalism
  23. Rationalism
  24. Relativism
  25. Romanticism
  26. Scientism
  27. Structuralism
  28. Symbolic interactionism


Behaviourism. Behaviourism is a set of doctrines that argues that human and animal behaviour can be explained in terms of external stimuli, responses, learned histories and reinforcement.

Behaviourists argue that the human mind cannot be known and, therefore, cannot be shown to have an effect on the individual’s behaviour. All mental states, including beliefs, values, motives and reasons can only be defined in terms of observable behaviour. Any data of a mental kind should be regarded as unscientific. Reinforcement can increase (positive reinforcement) or decrease (negative reinforcement) desired behaviour.

All human behaviour can be understood in terms of cause and effect. Behaviourists, therefore, argue that research should focus on that which is determined by, and is the product of, the environment. This implies that research should focus on observable behaviour which can be objectively measured rather than on things like cognitive processes which can only be inferred.[1] Intentionality and purposiveness are excluded or regarded as less important.

Positivism includes behaviourism, because positivism believes that understanding of human behaviour can be gained through observation and reason.

Behaviourism disagrees with constructivism because constructivism claims that understanding is gained through experience and reflection. There is, however, a link between positivism and constructivism with “reason” requiring “reflection”. This, however, can hardly be seen as establishing a positive link between behaviourism and constructivism because of other elements which we will discuss under constructivism, which happens to be the next paradigm that we will discuss.

The problem with behaviourism as a research paradigm is that changes in behaviour without taking cognitive processes into consideration are often only temporary. Consequently it does not deal with subjective human meaning-making.

[1] Accessed on 23/11/2017.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.