Supernormal Stimuli: This Is Your Brain on Porn, Junk Food, and the Internet

July 17, 2014 4:51 PM

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Supernormal Stimuli: This Is Your Brain on Porn, Junk Food, and the Internet

Given the rapid pace of technological change, one has to wonder whether or not our brains (and bodies) have been able to keep up with all the new stimulation that is available. Some research suggests that a few of the things we enjoy today might be classified as "supernormal stimuli," a term evolutionary biologists use to describe any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which the response evolved, even if the supernormal stimulus is artificial. Are sources of superstimulation like junk food and porn more likely to hook us into bad habits? It is certainly a very muddy topic, but it's a question that I believe deserves investigating. After all, we've become increasingly surrounded by stimulation that wasn't available even a few years ago. Are my mind and body really ready for Flavor Blasted Goldfish and never-ending social-media updates?

Before we get into the research, let's summarize the concept a bit more clearly: What exactly is a supernormal stimulus? The brilliant comic below will explain the basics and will take you less than two minutes to read.

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