Supernormal stimulus: what is it, characteristics and examples

Evolution, humans and other organisms tend to give a concrete response to certain stimuli.

But sometimes we find stimuli that generate responses that are not fully justified. Let’s find out why this phenomenon known as supernormal stimulus occurs, What are the underlying causes and also discover some examples that help us to understand this curious phenomenon.

    What is a supernormal stimulus?

    Supernormal stimuli, also called superstimuli or supernormal stimuli, are a specific type of stimulus that exaggerates the qualities of others, causing the perceiving body to emit a much stronger response than when faced with these normal stimuli.

    Evolution, the person has learned to emit this response to normal stimuli, but the supernormal takes the opportunity to get a more powerful version. This phenomenon mainly affects issues belonging to the fields of psychology and biology. However, examples of supernormal stimuli can also be found in some sociological and even artistic aspects.

    The explanation for this phenomenon could come, according to experts, from a process of selective pressure. it would be an evolutionary mechanism by which an individual of a species would begin to show examples of supernormal stimuli, To obtain a response before the other individuals **, the stimuli were more moderate and therefore could not win this little contest.

    In this sense, we would find showy attributes in some animals, such as the peacock’s tail, which instead of helping to fly, its function is to attract the attention of females to be chosen for breeding., Thus making them genes of this particular individual pass down to the next generation. In this case, the size and color of the tail feathers would represent the supernormal stimulus.

    Examples of this phenomenon

    We have seen that there can be examples of supernormal stimuli in various fields. Therefore, we will review the most important ones to better understand how this phenomenon works.

    1. In the field of biology and ethology

    The example of the peacock tail is one of the many cases of supernormal stimuli that can be found biologically. But there are experiments in which researchers have artificially created such stimuli. A particularly interesting study was carried out by the Dutch ornithologist Nikolaas Tinbergen and his collaborators, studying the case of chicks of herring gulls.

    The young of this type of bird actively react to the red markings their parents have on their beaks, pecking them to order regurgitated food. Tinbergen proposed an experiment in which a group of chicks were presented with the normal situation with the adult, others were placed in front of an artificial head, with the same markings as the real ones, and another was placed next to the figure of a beak, no more.

    But there was one final group of chicks that were opposite in any seemingly organic way. These were placed on the side of a red colored stick, with white markings. In other words, the red distribution that caused its natural tingling reaction was exaggerated. Which group had the highest response rate? They were not those of the beak, nor those of the false head, nor even those of the natural situation.

    It was the chicks who were in front of the red stick who showed that they perceived a supernormal stimulus.. So it was this group that most often pecked the stick in the hope of receiving the food they craved so much, and they did so without being in a normal situation next to the adult birds who were the ones who had to provide them with food. food. in a real environment.

    This is not the only example. Another test was done, in this case with songbirds, the eggs are bluish, speckled with gray spots. Scientists caught a group of these birds and placed them next to deep blue figures and dark markings, in addition to their eggs, and the birds preferred to climb on the figure, a clear signal that they were responding to the supra stimulus. normal that they represented.

    Outraged, there are cases of species that have evolved to exert supernormal stimuli for other species and thus take advantage of their disproportionate response. This is the case with cuckoos, a type of bird that falls under the category of reproductive parasites, as this causes members of another species (hosts) to believe that they are in fact members of their offspring to be fed.

    How can you do it? By calls and behaviors similar, for example, to those of warblers, but much more exaggerated, thus managing to capture the response of adults above their own offspring. In other words, they would generate a supernormal stimulus to benefit from the automatic response of these birds, which would prefer to feed them rather than their own offspring.

    2. In the field of psychology

    But supernormal stimuli are not just a matter of biology, as we have seen. In the field of psychology, that is, of human behavior, there are also clear examples of this phenomenon. One of them could be perceived through junk food, foods that generate a great appetite for their appearance and tasteBut at the nutritional level, these are terrible for our bodies.

    At the evolutionary level, it has a very logical explanation. Humans, of course, haven’t always lived in the civilization we know now, in fact that’s the least amount of time since the species has existed. Instead, we are biologically adapted to the days when we were hunters and gatherers. At that time, it was not so easy to provide food for the tribe, let alone the sugars and fats, so succulent.

    But today it is extremely easy to get hold of these types of substances. This is where junk food comes in: extremely sought after components, very easy to obtain in any way (economically and geographically). Hence its unstoppable success, no matter how much health professionals warn about the risks of its consumption. And this is because the response to the supernormal stimulus often weighs more than the reasoning.

    Of course, sex was not going to be an exception, and we can see clear examples in people who use cosmetic surgery to modify and increase their sexual attributes, thereby obtaining supernormal stimuli that will generate responses to d other individuals before others. stimuli.

    Human behavior also responds to supernormal stimuli in other areas, such as heart programs, which seek visceral reactions that keep the viewer glued to the screen.

    The same goes for social media, which they offer the user content that hooks them automatically and generates response after response, Because he has found exaggerated stimuli that satisfy him and do not let him escape, or rather he does not want to, because the rest of the stimuli, normal, do not attract him as much as these.

      3. In the field of art

      Returning to the subject of sexuality, but this time in the realm of art, we can find examples of supernormal stimuli, for example in the figures of the famous Venus, female sculptures where the attributes and curves are clearly exaggerated, In order to elicit a response to pitch.

      In addition to these figures, you can also see paintings in which the painters deliberately decided to exaggerate the size of the lips or eyes, to generate greater appeal to people who saw the painting. Therefore, they created supernormal stimuli in order to generate greater interest in their works.

      Even in audiovisual content, we can easily see how much the physical and social qualities are exaggerated in the characters played by certain actors and actresses, so that they generate a great response in viewers and thus want to continue to see this particular content at the expense. .

      It can also be observed even without the need for pictures, for example in novels. Sometimes the arguments of certain volumes they push the clichés to the extreme, the exaggerated features, for example of the romantic cut, Seeking an emotional response to the reader who responds, without a doubt, to a supernormal stimulus and which, instead, if the text were more realistic, it probably wouldn’t happen.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Doyle, JF, Pazhoohi, F. (2012). Natural and enlarged breasts: what is not natural is the most attractive ?. Bulletin of human ethology.
      • Barrett, D. (2007). Waistland: An Evolutionary (R) View of Our Weight and Fitness Crisis. WW Norton & Company.
      • Burkhardt, RW (2005). Behavioral models: Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen and the foundations of ethology. The University of Chicago Press.
      • Grim, T., Honza, M. (2001). Does the supernormal stimulus influence the behavior of the cuckoo parents? Behavioral ecology and sociobiology.
      • Tinbergen, N. (1951). The study of instinct. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
      • Tinbergen, N. (1953). The world of the silver-headed gull; a study of the social behavior of birds. London: Collins.

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