behavioranalysishistory / Bolacchi, Giulio
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Bolacchi, Giulio


«Methodological analyses are basic for the development of any science, but this perspective has been rather disregarded because behaviorism, since its beginning, was focused on the experimental-analysis techniques. This has prevented the growth of a well-defined science of behavior, in which the many experimental analyses could be connected with a single theoretical formulation, as it happens within the other sciences. Experiments, although refined, are not enough to found a science, if a univocal theoretical interpretation of all them is missing.  So, we observe that each scholar is inclined to autonomously interpret his experiments and, therefore, there is a multiplicity of interpretations for the same experiment (as in the case of the matching law). Also the professional activity in the behavioristic context suffers from a theoretical naivete, which makes behaviourism relevant only in the simplest cases where positive and negative reinforces can be used in an immediate and direct way.»

- Giulio Bolacchi





Primary Areas of Study

The use of Galilean method for the study of human behavior, social interaction and society.


  • The methodology and language of science and the experimental analysis of behavior. The Aristotelian physicists studied the motion on the basis of direct experiences; hence the erroneous theory that all in-motion objects tend to the state of rest. Galileo (whose methodological revolution started modern science) completely turned this statement around: he formulated and demonstrated the hypothesis that in principle an in-motion object never stops. Given that what we see on earth should be explained by this hypothesis, physicists wonder: why do in-motion objects stop? The scientific answer is: because of frictions. Many physicists design experiments to study frictions on the basis of abstract laws. Let's do likewise in the field of behavior science. If we conceive stimulus and response in abstract terms, namely without any friction, then we must say that applying a schedule of reinforcement must determine - necessarily, immediately - a behavior strictly conforming to that schedule. Why that does not happen is a matter of frictions. Therefore, we should start studying frictions on the experimental level. Skinner gave an unvaluable contribution, as he applied the experimental method to the study of behavior, but he has not managed this methodological step. Skinner conceived laboratory experiments, he designed the controlled experimental context through the schedules of reinforcement and found learning curves. But what about the theory, namely, an abstract hypothesis about the theoretical schedules of reinforcement and the "pure" responses to the theoretical schedules? If we want to fully embrace a scientific perspective, we must be able to connect the more abstract context directly to the more specific experimental context. We can also start from experiments, but we must be able to build up the theory.


  • The scientific study of social interactions using the theory of interests. I formulated the theory of interests to explicate human behavior and social interaction from a perspective conforming to the intersubjectiveness of the scientific language. The abstract primitive predicates of the theory can be related to the experimental predicates through a correspondence relation. Notably, the basic schemata of the theory of interests (positive and negative involvement of interests, which explicate cooperation and conflict) can be related to the social reinforcement relations between operant behaviors of different subjects within the experimental analysis of behavior. The combinations of the basic schemata of the theory of interests allow explicating power (typical of institution), exchange (typical of the market), organization and all complex social interactions.


  • The scientific integration of economics, psychology and sociology. The theory of interests is offered as a unitary paradigm of reference in the field of social disciplines to establish a real social science. My objective is making the languages of social disciplines (in particular economics, psychology, sociology) compatible with a consistent system of behavior-science axioms to which the propositions formulated within the different linguistic constructions can be logically brought back.


I am also interested in the scientific explication of the teacher-learner interaction and teaching methods (particularly with reference to the psychological variables of learning and the change of attitudes). I analyze computer-aided programmed instruction as a reconstruction of the knowledge contexts compatible, in principle, with frictionless learning processes.






Personal official website: (Italian language. The English version will be online as soon as possible)



Selected Papers


A New Paradigm for the Integration of the Social Sciences, in Nancy K. Innis (ed.),  Reflections on Adaptive Behavior: Essays in Honor of J. E. R. Staddon, M.I.T. Press, 2008.


Excerpt: "All possible types of social interaction have to be explicated in terms of reinforcement, because the reinforcing stimuli for one subject’s social behavior sequences are, by definition, the behaviors of other subjects. As stated above, the set of social stimuli (the social environment) does not replace or remove the set of natural stimuli, but it widens the extent of control on behavior, determining a further constraint on the execution of instrumental sequences: in order that the subject can complete his sequence with the consummatory behavior, it is necessary that the instrumental behavior is compatible not only with the physical environment, but also with the social environment. In short, these are the basic reference points for the experimental analysis of social behavior.


At the level of abstract language, there is a correspondence between the experimental language of behavior analysis and the theory of interests (which is concisely outlined in this paper); the latter fits more easily in dealing with the difficulties inherent in the explication of social phenomena. The relation between experimental language and abstract language (theory of interests) is given by the correspondence between the predicate "operant (behavior)" (minimum unit of analysis) and the (primitive) predicate "interest." In this way, the concept of interest loses the motivational connotations that the common language ascribes to it and designates only instrumental sequences of operant behaviors. Therefore, saying that an interest is satisfied or not satisfied (or sacrificed) is tantamount to saying that a behavior is realized or is not realized."




On "social sciences" and science, Behavior & Philosophy, 32, n. 2 (2004), 465-478. (Available at Jstore, free)


Abstract: "Scientific knowledge as opposed to common-sense knowledge entails a methodological revolution based on a search not for essences, in Aristotelian sense, but for mathematical functions, in Galilean sense, originated from the controlled experiment and founded on the concept of a closed or isolated system. The Priestley-Lavoisier dispute is an historical example that shows clearly the disjunction between pre-science and science. This methodological revolution has not yet been achieved in the field of “social sciences” for the persisting prejudices about dualism between man and nature. Starting from this situation, the paper emphasizes the need for a definition of the research about man and society that overcomes the obstacles and the presuppositions of philosophical ideology and common sense, according to the distinctive features of scientific inquiry and the corresponding requirements for the scientific language. In particular, with reference to the language of every science, the condition of semantic homogeneity of predicates is analyzed, and the main misunderstandings deriving from the non-conformity to this basic criterion (that have so far not allowed a development of a real social science) are pointed out; namely: (a) the consideration of the languages that designate the different fields of research (economics, psychology and sociology) as pairwise disjoint sets, even if there are clear intersections among them, and (b) the resort within the current “social sciences” language to pseudofunctions, whose domain is a set of internal (cognitive) events, or a set of biological events, and the range is a set of external (behavioral) events. According to these remarks, some criticisms to McIntyre’s paper, published in this issue, are formulated."




Selected Books


Metodologia delle scienze sociali (Methodology of the Social Sciences), Edizioni Ricerche, Roma, 1963


Teoria delle classi sociali (Social Classes Theory), Edizioni Ricerche, Roma, 1963


La struttura del potere (The Structure of Power), Edizioni Ricerche, Roma, 1964


Il sequestro come fatto sociale (The Kidnapping as a Social Fact), Editrice Dattena, Cagliari, 1998






An Interview with Giulio Bolacchi about some major issues in the science of behavior (2010)

Italian language. English subtitles contain some changes made by Giulio Bolacchi to his speech (2016)


Part 1On Skinner's "Verbal Behavior", schedules of reinforcement, theoretical and experimental perspective in behaviorism and science.


Part 2On some methodological problems in the study of schedules of reinforcement: homogeneity between variables and the isomorphism between schedules and behaviors; higher-level schedules; reinforcement and social interaction.


Part 3On the future of behaviorism, its relations with other disciplines (economics, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, psychiatry) and the need of a theoretical advancement in the scientific study of behavior.


Part 4: On society, social science and the science of behavior: democracy, market, education and applied behavioral analysis. 






My best student is Rosanna Farci: she has been collaborating with me since the early 90s and I trust she will dedicate herself to carry on my work on behavior science and the integration of social disciplines. 


Many young people have attendend the undergraduate and graduate courses that I held in my long teaching career. Some of them were inspired to enter the field of behavioral science. I cannot remember them all, but I would like to remind here Rita Olla and Daniele Ortu.



Intellectual Ancestry


I can only start with Galileo and Darwin, then continue with B. F. Skinner and Rudolph Carnap. I would also like to mention: Gerard Debreu (Theory of Value), Dalberto Faggiani (La struttura logica della fisica [The logical structure of physics]), Jacques Monod (Chance and Necessity), Charles Morris (Signs, Language and Behavior), Ralph Barton Perry (General Theory of Value).




Additional Information


My academic career took place in the Faculty of Economics, State University of Cagliari, where I proposed and pursued a perspective of integration of economics and organizational disciplines within the framework of the scientific study of behavior. In my university teachings (sociology and social psychology) I have always given great importance to the issues concerning the Galilean method, the syntactic and semantic aspects of the language of science, the experimental analysis of behavior and its theoretical systematization. In this perspective of integration of the social sciences, I designed and directed also some graduate programs of high managerial education at Ailun; in particular, the International graduate program in Science of Organization, in which also George Ainslie, Daniel Bernstein, Edmund Fantino, Sigrid Glenn, Richard Herrnstein, Peter Killeen, Armando Machado, M. Jackson Marr, David Palmer, Drazen Prelec, Howard Rachlin, John Staddon have accepted to teach for several years.