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May 2014 by PCI College

Bite-Sized Book Review - 'Supernormal Stimuli' by Deirdre Barrett

'Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran their Evolutionary Purpose' by Deirdre Barrett is reviewed this week by Eoin Stephens, PCI College President.

Now that this year’s Easter eggs are a just a memory, it’s a good time to draw attention to this 2010 book about the prevalence in our lives of Supernormal Stimuli (Easter eggs are a classic example). Supernormal Stimuli can be defined as artificially enhanced stimuli which elicit a hard-to-resist motivational response by hijacking some of our most basic instincts and their associated emotions, behaviours and thoughts.

Barrett outlines the historical development of the concept of Supernormal Stimulus, and describes some of the colourful scientific characters involved. She then gives examples of common Supernormal Stimuli from some of the main instinctual domains of human life: Sex (pornography, etc), Eating (junk foods), Nurturing (cute cats in YouTube videos), Territorialism (war, weapons), Social Life (addictive TV, gripping movies, page-turning novels, and of course social media), and Problem-Solving (puzzles, games, careers, art, etc).

If Supernormal Stimuli are so prevalent and powerful, what do we do? Barrett suggests “Individually, we must first identify supernormal stimuli. We don’t have to just ‘listen to our instincts’, we can exercise willpower…”

If you want to know more, read the book (it’s an intellectual Supernormal Stimulus in itself).  And I’ve written about the idea in this blog from 2012: http://www.pcicollege.ie/even-better-than-the-real-thing

Eoin Stephens, PCI College President (May 2014)

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