In a video on his channel last week Australian standup comedian and YouTuber Lewis Spears laid it all out: “Videos with ‘excessive swearing’ are considered ineligible for ads. However, swearing in Australia is not offensive. It’s just how we talk. It’s a part of our culture. And to take that away from us is discrimination at its finest.
Supernormal stimuli could be produced for all major areas of animal behaviour. Instincts weren’t coded for a complex shape of what to nurture or mate with or attack. Animals responded to just a few simple characteristics that could easily be exaggerated. Territorial male stickleback fish ignored a real male to fight a dummy with an underside brighter red than that of any natural fish. Male butterflies ignored a receptive female to straddle small cardboard cylinders if their vibrations and stripes were more intense – the cylinders didn’t even need wings. These animal behaviours look funny to us… or sad. But just how different are they from our modern habits?
People sit alone in front of a plastic box streaming Friends instead of going out with their real buddies. They tend Farmville crops while shirking their real duties. Men have sex with two-dimensional screen images when a willing partner may be in the next room. Research finds the cutest babies – those with the largest eyes and smallest noses – get the most attention, but Hello Kitty beats any baby’s proportions.
Supernormal stimuli are a driving force in many of today’s problems, including obesity, addiction to television and video games, and war. The key is that supernormal stimuli reverse the natural relationship between instinct and object. “Trust your instincts” works only if we’re out hunting and gathering, not when we’re bumbling around shopping centres. Becoming aware of supernormal stimuli does more than alert us to how these unfettered instincts fuel dangerous excesses. Once we recognise how supernormal stimuli operate, we can craft new approaches to modern predicaments. Humans have one stupendous advantage over Tinbergen’s birds – a huge brain with an especially well-developed prefrontal cortex. This gives us the unique ability to exercise self-control, override instincts that lead us astray and extricate ourselves from civilisation’s gaudy traps.