Two years ago I posted about hyperrealism. Rarely have I discovered a topic that has fascinated me more–I haven’t really stopped thinking about the concept since. Specifically, I have been intrigued by the notion of “the natural” and what this means for individuals psychologically (do terms like “real” and “natural” have the same meaning and carry the same weight they used to? And what does/will this mean for us?). I remember hearing about a behavioral construct and a series of fascinating experiments in an introductory social psychology course I took many years ago that, until today, I could not recall…
“A superstimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus that normally releases it.
Konrad Lorenz observed that birds would select for brooding eggs that resembled those of their own species but were larger. Niko Tinbergen, following his extensive analysis of the stimulus features that elicited food-begging in the chick of the herring gull, constructed an artificial superstimulus consisting of a red knitting needle with three white bands painted round it; this elicited a stronger response than an accurate three-dimensional model of the parent’s head (white) and bill (yellow with a red spot).
It is sometimes argued that phenomena such as sexual fetishes and the taste for junk food can be partially explained as examples of superstimulation. Modern artefacts may activate instinctive responses which evolved in a world without shiny fabrics or double cheeseburgers, where shiny skin was a sign of health in a prospective mate, and fat was a vital nutrient.” <wiki>
My favourite (living) philosopher, Daniel Dennett, on Cute, sexy, sweet, funny:
Couple of short essays that really captured my interest in the subject:
- Superstimuli and the Collapse of Western Civilization (from Overcoming Bias, March 2007)
- Why We Haven’t Met Any Aliens (from SEED magazine, May 2006)