This course aims will examine the historical development of the main themes, problems and theories of behavioural sciences and neuroscience. In particular, the course aims to foster a critical understanding of the historical development of the major themes, problems, and models of scientific explanation on behavior and psychological processes, from the earliest naturalized conceptualizations to experimental psychology and contemporary neuroscience. The evolution of the behavioural sciences and neuroscience will be discussed in its relationship with the history of philosophical ideas and other human sciences such as sociology and anthropology, in its close intertwining with the natural and biological sciences. At the same time the history of the behavioural sciences and neuroscience will be situated in the context of concrete history, such as the material, economic and techological transofrmations.
Particular attention will be given to the examination of the evolution of neuroscientific models of explanation of cognitive and communication processes.
The course will also examine the history of the cultural and moral impact of developments of the behavioural sciences and neuroscience with particular regard to the applications of cognitive science, neuropsychopharmacology and neurotechnologies in the 20th century.
The course aims to achieve these learning outcomes:
1) an organic knowledge of the major research programs, concepts, and problems of the behavioural sciences and neuroscience;
2) the ability to contextualize, analyze, and critically interpret the ideas and models of explanation of the behavioural sciences and neuroscience also in relation to other research disciplines, material history, culture, ethics, and technological evolution;
3) the historical and theoretical tools for understanding the transformations of psychological and neuroscientic models of cognitive and communication processes.
4) the lexical and conceptual tools necessary to the study of the history of the behavioural sciences, neuroscience, and for acquiring good analytical and argumentative skills in written and oral form.

The monographic part of the program this year aims to critically illustrate the history of the contribution of the behavioral sciences and neuroscience to the understanding of the nature of desire and the processes of construction of habits and their control/dyscontrol, with particular focus on the case of pathological addictions (behavioral/ substance/affective addictions).
teacher profile | teaching materials

Mutuazione: 20710738 STORIA DELLE SCIENZE DEL COMPORTAMENTO E DELLE NEUROSCIENZE -LM in Scienze Cognitive della Comunicazione e dell'Azione LM-92 CANALI STEFANO


Institutional part on the general history of behavioral sciences, and neuroscience:
I) History of science and history of psychology 1. Why study the history of the sciences of the mind 2. Historiography of science: continuism and scientific revolutions 3. Normal science and paradigms 4. Historiography of psychology and neuroscience
II) The philosophical past 1. The first psychological problems 2. The change in the conception of man with Humanism and renaissance and Scientific Revolution 6. Descartes 7. Rationalism and empiricism 8. From Descartes to the "idéologues" 9. The Kantian Interdiction
III) The birth of experimental psychology: from Helmholtz to Wundt 1. The birth of experimental psychology 2. Helmholtz: specific nervous energy and unconscious inference 3. The phenomenological innatism of Ewald Hering 4. Wilhelm Wundt and physiological psychology 5. Titchener and North American structuralism
IV) The reaction to Wundt in Europe and America 1. Brentano and the Brentanians 5. American functionalism, between evolutionism and pragmatism
V) The psychology of Gestalt 1. The beginnings 2. The laws of Gestalt 3. Isomorphism 4. The field model 5. Rise and diaspora
VI) The behaviorist perspective I. Introduction 2. American psychology at the beginning of the century: structuralism and functionalism 3. Behaviorism from Watson to the 50s 4. Skinner and the behaviorist utopia 5. Operationism in psychology 6. Personality, psychopathology and social learning in the behaviorist perspective
VII) The cognitive perspective 1. Introduction 2. The study of cognitive processes: from the Würzburg school to Bartlett 3. The theories of intelligence 4. Theories of psychic development 5. Piaget's theory 6. Probabilistic and ecological theories of mental processes 7. Cognitivism 8. Cognitive science
VIII) The biological and neuroscientific perspective 1. Introduction 2. Animal and comparative psychology. Ethology 3. Research on brain functions at the beginning of the twentieth century 4. Bechterev's reflexology 5. Pavlov's theory of higher nervous activity 6. Holistic theories of the functioning of the mind and brain in the early twentieth century 7. The neuroconnectionism of Hebb 8. Research on brain function and behavior: 1950-70 9. The theory of brain functional systems of Lurija 10. Cognitive, affective and social neuroscience.
IX) The contemporary debate 1. Crisis of theories or crisis of psychology 2. Empirical verification in psychology 3. Psychology of common sense and alternative psychology 4. The primacy of neuroscience 5. The discomfort of psychotherapy 6. Psychology and contemporary society.

Core Documentation

for the institutional part
Luccio R. (2013). Storia della psicologia: un’introduzione. Rome-Bari: Laterza (chapters: 1; 2 paragraphs 2.1, 2.2, 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 2.8, 2.9; 3; 4; 5 paragraphs 5.1 and 5.5; 6).

Mecacci L. (2011). Storia della psicologia del Novecento. Rome-Bari: Laterza (chapters: 4; 5; 7; 8).

for the monographic part:
teacher's handouts

Type of delivery of the course

The course will see the alternation of lectures on the general history of behavioral sciences and neurosciences from the conceptions of natural philosophy to contemporary neuroscience (institutional part) and lectures on the history of research on nature and the psychological and cerebral mechanisms of desire and the processes of construction of habits and their control / discontrol, with particular attention to the case of pathological addictions (behavioral, from substance, affective). (monographic part). The course includes lectures in which, however, the intervention of students will be constantly required, who will be asked to propose opinions, reformulations of the contents and questions. The lessons will include moments of writing on the contents discussed in order to encourage learning and the development of more punctual and effective written expression skills. During the course students will be asked to elaborate a short essay on a topic of their choice on the topics of the course. The contents of the essay must be presented in the classroom and through a poster. The quality of the short essay, the poster and its presentation will contribute to the exam score. A course blog will be activated. Students will be invited to publish posts. The posts will have to deal critically with the topics covered, take inspiration from them for reflections or original interpretations. The publication of the posts and their quality will contribute to the exam score. During the course students will be invited to carry out a small group research on the monographic themes of the theories of emotions.


Participation in the lessons is strongly recommended. Participating in classes will contribute significantly to the learning experience, to learn to learn. Active participation requires attendance for the entire course, taking part in the discussions that will accompany each lesson and making some original materials. Participating in lectures and discussions, preparing presentations, written materials to be discussed also online on the course website solicits and favors not only the assimilation of the course contents, but more generally the development of critical analysis skills, learning and effective communication. Participation in the course and the production of written materials will contribute to the evaluation during the exam.

Type of evaluation

Written exam with open questions and short answers and questions with multiple choice answers. A written thesis can be agreed with the teacher who could contribute to the determination of the exam mark.