Supernormal Stimulus: What It Is, Characteristics And Examples

Supernormal stimulus

Evolutionarily, humans and other organisms tend to give a specific response to certain stimuli.

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

What is a supernormal stimulus?

Supernormal stimuli, also called superstimuli or supranormal stimuli, are a specific type of stimulus that exaggerates the qualities of others, thus causing the organism that perceives it to emit a much stronger response than to those normal stimuli.

Evolutionarily, the person has learned to emit this response to normal stimuli, but supernormal stimuli take advantage of this to achieve a more powerful version of it. This phenomenon mainly affects issues belonging to the fields of psychology and biology. However, examples of supernormal stimulation can also be found in certain sociological and even artistic aspects.

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

In that sense, we would find some showy attributes in certain animals, such as the peacock’s tail, which instead of helping it fly, its function is to attract the attention of the females in order to be chosen for reproduction, thus making the genes from that specific individual pass on 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 a whole variety of fields. Therefore, we are going to review the most important ones in order to better understand how this phenomenon works.

1. In the field of biology and ethology

The example of the peacock’s tail is one of the many cases of supernormal stimuli that we can find on a biological level. But There are experiments in which researchers have artificially created this type of stimuli A particularly interesting one is the one carried out by Dutch ornithologist Nikolaas Tinbergen and his collaborators, studying the case of European herring gull chicks.

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The young of this type of bird actively respond to red marks that the parents have on their beak, pecking at it to ask for 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 peak, without further ado.

But there was one last group of chicks that were not facing any seemingly organic shape. These were placed next to a red stick, with white markings. That is, the distribution of red color that caused their natural pecking response was exaggerated. Which group showed a higher response rate? They weren’t the ones with the beak, nor the ones with the false head, nor even the ones from the natural situation.

It was the chicks that were in front of the red stick that demonstrated that they were perceiving a supernormal stimulus Therefore, it was this group that pecked the stick the most in the hope of receiving the food they so desired, and they did so without being in a normal situation with the adult birds that were the ones who had to provide them with food in an environment real.

It is not the only example. Another test was done, in this case with songbirds, whose eggs are bluish in tone, speckled with gray spots. The scientists took a group of these birds and placed them next to intense blue figures with dark markings, in addition to their eggs, and the birds preferred to climb on the figure, a clear sign that they were responding to the supernormal stimulus that they represented.

Besides, There are cases of species that have evolved to exert supernormal stimuli for other species and thus take advantage of their excessive response This is the case of cuckoos, a type of bird that falls into the category of breeding parasites, as it makes members of another species (hosts) believe that they are actually members of its offspring in order to be fed.

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How can you get it? Through calls and behaviors that are similar, for example, to those of warblers, but much more exaggerated, thus managing to capture the response of the adults above their own offspring. That is, they would be generating 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 only a matter of biology, as we have already seen. In the field of psychology, that is, human behavior, there are also clear examples of this phenomenon. One of them could be that perceived through junk food, foods that generate a great appetite due to their appearance and flavor but in reality at a nutritional level they are terrible for our body.

On an evolutionary level, it has a very logical explanation. Human beings, obviously, have not always lived in the civilization we know now, in fact this represents the shortest part of the time since the species has existed. Instead, biologically we are adapted to the times when we were hunters and gatherers. At that time it was not so easy to provide food to the tribe, much less sugars and fats, so succulent.

But nowadays it is extremely easy to get hold of this type of substance. That’s where junk food comes in: extremely palatable components, very easy to obtain in every way (economically and geographically). Hence its unstoppable success, even though health professionals warn of the risks of its consumption And the response to the supernormal stimulus often outweighs reasoning.

Of course, sex was not going to be an exception, and we can see clear examples in people who resort to cosmetic surgery to modify and increase their sexual attributes, thus managing to obtain supernormal stimuli that will generate responses in other individuals ahead of other less stimuli. striking.

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

The same thing happens with social networks, which They offer the user content that automatically engages them 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 normal stimuli do not attract him as much as those.

3. In the field of art

Returning to the topic of sexuality, but this time within the field of art, we can find examples of supernormal stimulation, for example in the figures of the famous Venus, female sculptures where the attributes and curves are clearly exaggerated in order to provoke a response at the height.

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

Even in audiovisual content we can easily observe how both physical and social qualities are exaggerated in the characters played by some actors and actresses, so that they generate a great response in viewers and thus want to continue watching that certain content to the detriment of others.

It can also be observed even without the need for images, for example, in novels. Sometimes the arguments of some volumes They take clichés to the extreme, exaggerating features, for example romantic in nature looking for an emotional response in the reader who responds, without a doubt, to a supernormal stimulus and which, on the other hand, if the text were more realistic, would probably not take place.