This tendency in nature for any stimulus that is an exaggerated version to elicit a stronger response than normal is called the ‘Supernormal Stimulus’ effect.
It was first observed by the ethologist Konrad Lorenz in brooding birds. Since then it has been observed in a wide variety of creatures. For example, there is an Australian beetle species whose males are sexually attracted to large and orange females – the larger and more orange the better. This creates a problem as the males attempt to mate with beer bottles that are just the right color – the males are more attracted to the bottles than to actual females.
The effect in humans...
In humans, it is argued that phenomena such as sexual fetishes and our delight for junk food can be largely explained as examples of supernormal stimulus effects. Candy bars are a great example of supernormal stimulus, they contain more concentrated sugar, salt, and fat than anything that exists in our ancestral environment and we love them. Some people are so strongly attracted to candy and chocolate that they’ll continue to eat them to the point of damaging their own health.
Other examples of human responses to supernormal stimuli are evidenced in how we like the colors of flowers so we breed bigger and brighter ones; we like sweet scents, so we manufacture strong perfumes; we like sexual stimuli, so create clothes and cosmetics to exaggerate them. We also prefer tall people, large breasts in women and super-models who have exaggerated levels of human beauty such as large eyes and facial symmetry.
The key and important thing to note about the effect of supernormal stimuli is the instinctual preference we have for those things that are larger, shinier and more exaggerated than normal.
The effects of supernormal stimulus can link to and drive life denying patterns of greeding. They can lead to behaviors of over-indulgence due to the strong unconscious responses we have to super-stimuli. So it’s vitally important to track for these effects in your life and then use conscious decision making to moderate your behavior. Make life enhancing choices through intelligence rather than through evolved instinctual patterns and desires. More greed is not better!
"There are limits to self-indulgence, none to restraint.”Mahatma Gandhi
And if you are interested, you can read more about Supernormal Stimuli and how to overcome them in this fascinating book:
Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose
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.