The Mankoff rat cartoon

On Language Log on October 5th, Mark Seidenberg, “Cartoonist walks into a language lab”:

[Bob] Mankoff’s involvement in humor research isn’t a joke. He almost completed a Ph.D. in experimental psychology back in the behaviorist era, which is pretty hard core. Before he left the field he co-authored a chapter called “Contingency in behavior theory”, as in contingencies of reinforcement in animal learning. The chapter included this cartoon:


Mankoff is the celebrated New Yorker cartoonist and cartoon editor (and scholar of cartoons); there is now a Mankoff Page on this blog.

#1 is a cartoon about operant conditioning, as here:

Operant conditioning (also called “instrumental conditioning”) is a learning process through which the strength of a behavior is modified by reward or punishment. It is also a procedure that is used to bring about such learning.

… Operant conditioning … was first extensively studied by Edward L. Thorndike (1874–1949), who observed the behavior of cats trying to escape from home-made puzzle boxes. A cat could escape from the box by a simple response such as pulling a cord or pushing a pole, but when first constrained the cats took a long time to get out. With repeated trials ineffective responses occurred less frequently and successful responses occurred more frequently, so the cats escaped more and more quickly. Thorndike generalized this finding in his law of effect, which states that behaviors followed by satisfying consequences tend to be repeated and those that produce unpleasant consequences are less likely to be repeated. In short, some consequences strengthen behavior and some consequences weaken behavior. By plotting escape time against trial number Thorndike produced the first known animal learning curves through this procedure.

… B.F. Skinner (1904–1990) is often referred to as the father of operant conditioning, and his work is frequently cited in connection with this topic… To implement his empirical approach, Skinner invented the operant conditioning chamber, or “Skinner Box”, in which subjects such as pigeons and rats were isolated and could be exposed to carefully controlled stimuli. (Wikipedia link)

Operant conditioning has occasionally made it into cartoons, as in this Savage Chickens strip:


And in this cartoon, which appears on a great many psychology sites, but apparently always without attribution (and I’m an idiot at deciphering cartoonists’ signatures):


Then there’s classical conditioning:

Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) refers to learning procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus (e.g. food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. a bell). It also refers to the learning process that results from this pairing, through which the neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response (e.g. salivation) that is usually similar to the one elicited by the potent stimulus. These basic facts, which require many qualifications …, were first studied in detail by Ivan Pavlov through experiments with dogs. Together with operant conditioning, classical conditioning became the foundation of behaviorism, a school of psychology which was dominant in the mid-20th century and is still an important influence on the practice of psychological therapy and the study of animal behavior. Classical conditioning is a basic learning process, and its neural substrates are now beginning to be understood. (Wikipedia link)

Pavlov (standing for classical conditioning) is a well-worn cartoon meme. On this blog:

from 10/11/15, “Pavlov’s cat”: Maria Scrivan cartoon

from 10/20/15, “Going to the dogs”: #2 Dale Coverly cartoon on Pavlov’s dogs

from 10/26/15, “Reubensesque”: #6 Mark Stivers Pavlov cartoon

from 11/15/15, “Title generator, Pavlov”: #2 Tom Gauld Pavlov cartoon

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