Supernormal Stimuli

In my new book, Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose, I describe how human instincts, for food, sex, or territorial protection, developed for life on the Savannah 10,000 years ago, not today’s world of densely populated cities and technological innovations. Evolution has been unable to keep pace with the rapid changes of modern life. In the 1930s Dutch Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen found that birds that lay small, pale blue eggs speckled with grey preferred to sit on giant, bright blue plaster dummies with black polka dots. He coined the term “supernormal stimuli” to describe these imitations that appeal to primitive instincts and, oddly, exert a stronger attraction than real things. We humans can produce our own supernormal stimuli: candy, pornography, huge-eyed stuffed animals. The concept of Supernormal Stimuli has enormous power to illuminate the alarming disconnect between human instinct and our created environment. [Deirdre Barrett (2010)]

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