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Good Reads  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution

Supernormal Stimuli How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose

Popular Science
By: Deirdre Barrett(Author)
224 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
Supernormal Stimuli
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  • Supernormal Stimuli ISBN: 9780393068481 Hardback Apr 2010 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Price: £34.00
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

A Harvard psychologist explains how our once-helpful instincts get hijacked in our garish modern world.

Our instincts – for food, sex, or territorial protection – evolved for life on the savannahs 10,000 years ago, not in today's world of densely populated cities, technological innovations, and pollution. We now have access to a glut of larger-than-life objects, from candy to pornography to atomic weapons – that gratify these gut instincts with often-dangerous results. Animal biologists coined the term "supernormal stimuli" to describe imitations that appeal to primitive instincts and exert a stronger pull than real things, such as soccer balls that geese prefer over eggs. Evolutionary psychologist Deirdre Barrett applies this concept to the alarming disconnect between human instinct and our created environment, demonstrating how supernormal stimuli are a major cause of today's most pressing problems, including obesity and war. However, Barrett does more than show how unfettered instincts fuel dangerous excesses. She also reminds us that by exercising self-control we can rein them in, potentially saving ourselves and civilization.

Customer Reviews


Deirdre Barrett is an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard Medical School’s Behavioral Medicine Program. She is the author of several books, including Waistland, Trauma and Dream, and Supernormal Stimuli. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Popular Science
By: Deirdre Barrett(Author)
224 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
Media reviews

"The concept of a supernormal stimulus is essential to understanding the influence of evolution on organisms in artificial environments – which in the case of humans is almost every aspect of our surroundings. In this clear and thoughtful book, Deirdre Barrett offers the first comprehensive overview of the many ways in which we stimulate ourselves in ways that the forces of evolution never anticipated."
– Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and Enlightenment Now

"Supernormal Stimuli is just super. The reader is shown how by understanding our evolutionary past we can see how our lives are guided today. This book is a great example of the ancient wisdom that to 'know thyself' is the key to the good life."
– John Ratey, MD, Associate Clinical Professor, Harvard Medical School, and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

"Deirdre Barrett's new book is a super stimulus to our normal imagination. She shows us that biology will be our destiny if we do not recognize our inherited tendency to overvalue supernormal color, size, and taste. She travels effortlessly from the pioneers of ethology – the study of animal behavior – to our current exaggerated preoccupations with sex, food, and war. She lucidly helps us to see the ordinary in an extraordinary new light."
– David Spiegel, MD, Willson Professor and Associate Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine

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