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Exaggerated imitation (can) exert a stronger pull than real thing

Exaggerated imitation (can) exert a stronger pull than real thing Exaggerated imitation (can) exert a stronger pull than real thing
Source : Cuckoo in the rain (1900 - 1910) by Ohara Koson via Pinterest
Supernormal Stimuli
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Supernormal Stimuli
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#Supernormal stimulus

The European Cuckoo, whose distinctive call issues from our cuckoo clocks, seems more goofy than sinister. However, this creature is the leading example of a brood parasite. A female cuckoo will sneak into the nest of another species when the parent bird is away and lay an egg, shoving a rightful one out so the count will be correct. She flies away to repeat this in other nests, leaving the care of her progeny to the unsuspecting adoptive parents. The cuckoo egg resembles those of the host but it's often a bit larger or brighter. The nest's owner sits on the cuckoo eggs preferentially if there are too many to keep warm. When the baby cuckoo hatches, its beak is wider and redder than the other chicks'. If there are any other chicks. The mother cuckoo has already dumped one egg, and the baby cuckoo tries to push remaining eggs or newly hatched siblings to their death.

The cuckoo enacts the Cinderella story in reverse: the stepmother gives Cinderella all the attention while her ugly stepsisters go wanting. Tragicomic dramas play out in every arena of animal life. Put a mirror on the side of a beta fighting fish's aquarium and the gaudy iridescent male will beat himself against the glass attacking a perceived intruder. A hen lays eggs day after day as a farmer removes them for human breakfasts-30,000 in a lifetime. Not a single chick hatches but she never gives up trying.

Male barn swallows have light brown chests and females choose the ones with the most intense color as an indication of fitness. Scientists with a $5.99 felt-tip marker can darken the chest of a previously scorned male, and suddenly females line up to mate with him.

These animal behaviors look funny to us ... or sad ... the reflexive instincts of dumb animals. But then there's a jolt of recognition: just how different are our endless wars, our modem health woes, our romantic and sexual posturing? Human instincts were designed for hunting and gathering on the savannahs of Africa 10,000 years ago. Our present world is incompatible with these instincts because of radical increases in population densities, technological inventions, and pollution. Evolution's inability to keep pace with such rapid change plays a role in most modern problems. Animal biology developed a concept that is crucial to understanding the problems instincts create when disconnected from their natural environment—that of the supernormal stimulus. Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen coined this term after his animal research revealed that experimenters could create phony targets that appealed to instincts more than the original objects for which they'd evolved. He studied birds that lay small, pale blue eggs speckled with gray and found they preferred to sit on giant, bright blue ones with black polka dots. The essence of the supernormal stimulus is that the exaggerated imitation can exert a stronger pull than the real thing. Supernormal stimuli explain why other birds give the baby cuckoo more attention than their own young; why the unyielding, invulnerable fish in the mirror provokes such a violent attack; why the faux-feathered lothario gets all the girls.

Many evolutionary concepts have been applied to human behavior by biologists. Some have crossed over into popular conversation. However, the importance of supernormal stimuli has not yet been fully appreciated in either arena—until now. In the pages that follow, I appropriate the term to explain a broad array of human folly. Animals encounter supernormal stimuli mostly when experimenters build them. We humans can produce our own: candy sweeter than any fruit, stuffed animals with eyes wider than any baby, pornography, propaganda about menacing enemies. Instincts arose to call attention to rare necessities; now we let them dictate the manufacture of useless attention-grabbers.

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