- Explore more great deals on thousands of titles in our Deals in Books store.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 22, 2010
2016 Book Awards
Browse award-winning titles. See all 2016 winners
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
Special Offers and Product Promotions
About the Author
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.
Top Customer Reviews
It's an important insight that affords an "aha" experience. It explains much self-defeating, self-destructive human behavior.
The book is both scholarly and entertaining, and here Barrett joins the top tier of outstanding scientific writers for a wide audience. She has a flair for witty analogies between animal follies and their human counterparts. The New Yorker cartoons and photos of animals and people caught in goofy acts complement the text.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to think scientifically about human behavior.
It is a fascinating book, very well-written. The concepts are explained in a way that makes them easy to grasp. The animal to human metaphors are truly illuminating. The main point of the book is supernormal stimuli, which are exaggerated versions of natural stimuli to which there are existing instinctual responses. Barrett discusses how our evolved instincts are overwhelmed by technological advances, population density, and other facets of modern society. She explores how pornography, unhealthy diets, and even the quest for nuclear energy as opposed to wind or solar energy can be explained by supernormal stimuli. One reader said he liked the early chapters which are closer to standard evolutionary psychology better than the later more speculative ones. I disagree: I think the ideas in the later chapters are novel and exciting and offer ideas about how to deal with problems of our modern world that I haven't heard anywhere else. Excellent book; I recommend it highly!
Still ... only a third of the way through, I'm concerned about some inaccuracies in the book:
(1) she refers to dominant gorillas as "graybacks" where the standard term is "silverbacks" (p. 48)
(2) she offers a table of "Children Found Living with Animals 1900-2004" (p. 57) and recounts at relative length the story of Amala and Kamala (the Mindnapore "wolf girls"). Barrett is either unaware of or hides the fact that many (if not most) of the cases on her chart are suspect. The Wikipedia entry on the girls summarizes french scholar Serge Aroles's fairly solid argument that the entire Amala and Kamala story is a hoax.
(3) BTW, Barrett's account of Amala and Kamala are based on two sources ... one a chapter from McCrone's 1993 book and the other a 1966 source.
Granted, these problems don't impact her main argumment. And I realize that this book is slightly outside Barrett's specailty area. Okay, fine. But ... things like this suggest to me a book that is a little too fast and loose with scholarly standards of care.
So as I continue to read the book, I'll be a little more cautious. Which is probably ALWAYS a good thing when reading popularizations of biological evolution ....
But anyone reading the book would do well to be similarly careful .....
Iowa City, Iowa
I generally am highly critical of sociobiology (and its descendants), especially the way it makes such ready connections between genes and behaviors. A behavior or desire is considered natural, the sociobiologist explains it in terms of natural selection -- with no real evidence of course -- and then -- bam! -- culture changes and the behavior or desire is no longer considered natural. Oops.
Applying the notion of supernormal stimuli to human behavior, however, is one area the idea of the `caveman in a suit' has a lot of promise. Deidre Barrett recognizes this but doesn't do much with it. On the chapter about sex, for instance, she seems largely intent on simply pointing out examples of supernormal stimuli in human behavior.
Furthermore, Barrett also states as fact views that are controversial. I once taught a course on the beauty of the human face, and my conclusion was that there are so many semi-compelling theories out there that we can't yet say we can explain beauty. Barrett takes as fact the theories consistent with sociobiology.
Confidence in her use of evidence isn't bolstered when she says the war in Iraq was `shortly after' the release of a 1997 film. Usually when talking about events of the last several decades, people don't describe something happening six years after another has having occurred `shortly' after.
These faults don't sink the book like it should. It's short, the prose is serviceable, the cartoons (from the New Yorker, I assume) are funny, and the notion of supernormal stimuli is so compelling that you have enough evidence at hand in your own life that you don't feel dependent on Barrett's. In truth, I enjoyed the book. It's provocative. The example of fast food is well known, but Barrett argues that so many other things in everyday life also work as supernormal stimuli that it leaves you with plenty of food for thought.