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Anyone familiar with Deirdre Barrett/Supernormal stimuli?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created November 26, 2011 at 1:16 AM

I found this article from smartplanet.com -- The Science of Food Porn -- to be a fascinating read. The article mentions a Harvard psychologist, Deirdre Barrett, and her book Supernormal stimuli: how primal urges overran their evolutionary purpose:

Pioneered in field studies by the ethologists Tinbergen and Lorenz, supernormal stimuli is any phenomenon in which the features of an object ??? be it a parent, mate, or food ??? are exaggerated to make an animal respond more strongly to them. In her 2010 book Supernormal stimuli: how primal urges overran their evolutionary purpose, Deirdre Barrett explored the ways in which movie makers, advertisers and fast food companies exaggerate the parts of things we already like in order to hijack our emotions and cravings.

Baby chicks presented with parents with exaggerated versions of the features they???re homing in on ??? the color of a parent???s beak, say ??? will respond more strongly to an exaggerated, but artificial, version of their parent than to the real thing. In the same way, humans home in on versions of reality in which the most enticing features are enhanced. In food, that???s texture, color, and anything else we associate with nutrient density, mouth feel and general deliciousness.

The result, contends Barrett, is that despite the fact that fast food is universally acknowledged to be unhealthy, it remains a booming business, precisely because of the way it manipulates, in ads and in person, our desire for the nutrients we need to live.

Barrett is also the author of Waistland: The Revolutionary Science Behind Our Weight and Fitness Crisis. Given my interest in obesity, I've picked up this book, but am likely to also pick up the former.

I'm curious if any PHers are familiar with her work and if so, what are your thoughts? She calls herself an evolutionary psychologist. Is there a reason (aside from the fact she doesn't blog/tweet) that she's not more widely known in the paleosphere?

7dc950fc76a046048e683d2a27dced37

on November 26, 2011
at 12:54 PM

Emily Deans' blog is evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com; as a trained psychiatrist, I suspect she may actually be critical of psychology, as are others, as a "soft" science. But a well-reasoned argument is a well-reasoned argument, and I'm happy to read and consider that where ever it is found.

7dc950fc76a046048e683d2a27dced37

on November 26, 2011
at 12:51 PM

Emily Deans' blog is evolutionarypsy.blogspot.com; as a trained psychiatrist, I suspect she may actually be critical of psychology, as are others, as a "soft" science. But a well-reasoned argument is a well-reasoned argument, and I'm happy to read and consider that where ever it is found.

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on November 26, 2011
at 11:25 AM

If a discipline's finding can't be falsified, it's not a science. Just because someone has a PhD and claims it's a science doesn't make it so - it likely means they want grant money for "science."

8496289baf18c2d3e210740614dc9082

(1867)

on November 26, 2011
at 02:56 AM

Wisper: you might find that folks like Emily Deans, the Harvard-trained psychiatrist who writes http://evolutionarypsychology.blgospot.com, as well as most of the paleosphere who read her thoughts, (e.g. Kurt Harris, Chris Kresser, et al.) would disagree with you about whether evolutionary psychology is a science. I certainly do.

9f54852ea376e8e416356f547611e052

(2957)

on November 26, 2011
at 01:44 AM

Maybe evolutionary psychology isn't more known in the paleo circles because it's not a science, just like most of psychology isn't.

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3 Answers

2
96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on November 26, 2011
at 11:52 PM

I knew about this, but the reminder was very welcome. Even though I now avoid junk food because I developed aversion after months of healthy ancestral eating, I'll admit that some billboards and commercials still kindle the old impulse to eat junk. Fortunately, it's a split-second thing and then the new "No" kicks in.

2
775bc83a7c54975e77a8500e065a24c3

on November 26, 2011
at 10:14 PM

Very intersting. This serves to reinforce my belief that the fast food industry and the majority of food producers in this society are more concerned with profit than health. It reminds me of all the "super cool/hot" people in all the alcohol commercials only to be reminded to drink responsibly.

2
559a1bf85bfe38a0fbbf56377c7278b4

on November 26, 2011
at 03:20 PM

Spot on, I had to turn off the video as it was making me feel uneasy! I was familiar with Lorenz and I agree that advertising (and refined foods themselves) seem to distort and highjack our perception of food.

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