This short essay addresses some crucial issues in the experimental analysis of behavior. The consolidation of behavior science in a Galilean perspective (i.e., in terms of “sense-experiences and necessary demonstrations”) is hindered by the tendency to consider behaviorism mainly as the analysis of animal organisms. It follows a limitation in knowledge, which sometimes scholars try to overcome by opening to cognitive studies. However, this kind of openness is not needed at all. Indeed, the tendency mentioned above reflects a lack of attention to the explicative modes of scientific language: semantic homogeneity, logical-syntactical consistency, and the continuum between experimental and theoretical predicates.
Pavlovian and Skinnerian analyses are the only ones strictly compatible with the conditions for validity established by the theoretical-experimental method. Nonetheless, cognitive-behavioral disciplines often renounce this method; they put a vague generality (which is typical of the “normal paradigm” of psychology) before science’s rigorous analyticity and operativeness. Behaviorism’s weakness is not its alleged limitation in knowledge; it is the lack of a theoretical systematization of the experimental results, which also undermines its field of applications.
Metodo galileiano e analisi del comportamento: il comportamentismo
[Galilean Method and Behavior Analysis: Behaviorism]
[Galilean Method and Behavior Analysis: Behaviorism]
This short essay is included in the Proceeding of the International Congress celebrating the centenary of behaviorism, organized by IESCUM (European Institute for the Study of Human Behavior), with the patronage of the AIAMC (Italian Association of Behavior Analysis and Modification).
1/4«From a methodological perspective, the broad set of behaviors, defined in the context of each specific sciential attempt, can be divided into different subsets depending on whether scholars analyze behavior: (1) through controlled (laboratory) experiments (theoretical-experimental languages with rigorous and strict verification); (2) through only partially controlled experiments (theoretical, experimental languages with partial or stochastic verification); (3) through partially controlled experiential analyzes (theoretical, experiential languages with partial or stochastic verification); (4) based on suppositions or constructs whose semantic interpretation does not derive from control methods (abstract theoretical languages without verification).» IT
(G. Bolacchi, Metodo galileiano e analisi del comportamento: il comportamentismo [Galilean method and behavior analysis: Behaviorism], p. 76)
2/4«Economics is an example of the intersection between the third and fourth subset; Chomsky linguistics is an example of the fourth. In both cases, we can raise the question of whether and how economic and linguistic invariants can be verified, even if their semantic interpretation does not depend on whatever type of verification. In this regard, we can formulate only two hypotheses: either the invariants result from a biological evolutionary process, or they result from a more or less generalized learning process.» IT
(G. Bolacchi, Metodo galileiano e analisi del comportamento: il comportamentismo [Galilean method and behavior analysis: Behaviorism], p. 77)
3/4«Defining behavior in scientific terms requires assigning it a precise meaning by identifying specific minimal units of analysis as primitive predicates. At this level, only the Pavlovian and the Skinnerian research methods allow to define behavior, or more precisely, the relations (functions) explicating behavior in univocal terms, compatible with the experiment. The conditions for the validity of scientific language are thus satisfied, namely: (a) the logical-syntactic consistency at the different abstraction levels expressed as partitions and inclusions; (b) the interpretation resulting from the experiment, which must guarantee the semantic homogeneity, in principle; (c) the seamless traceability of theoretical predicates to experimental predicates.» IT
(G. Bolacchi, Metodo galileiano e analisi del comportamento: il comportamentismo [Galilean method and behavior analysis: Behaviorism], pp. 77-78)
4/4«We must credit Pavlov with a robust use of the experimental method that conforms to the rigorous criteria of the natural sciences and Skinner with an equally well-grounded use of the experiment, even if Skinnerian procedures allow for some gray areas, especially with reference to the interpretation of experimental data and the related theoretical elaboration. It is, therefore, perplexing that the reference point in the current state of psychological disciplines (and corresponding professional careers) is a “normal science” (in Kuhn’s meaning) that considers behaviorism a page to forget or, at best, to temper (or to correct) with strong doses of cognitivism, which distort the meaning of behaviorism. Perhaps we need to rethink Verplanck’s admonition that “A purely descriptive system is never popular,” an admonition that reminds behaviorists of their responsibilities.» IT
(G. Bolacchi, Metodo galileiano e analisi del comportamento: il comportamentismo [galilean method and behavior analisis: Behaviorism], p. 79)