​Analogue Living

Why I have a 'Goldfish like' attention span

Jip, guilty as charged ! When I look around distraction is everywhere, but take a step back, why would you look around in the first place, what could be possibly be more interest...PING! MESSAGE? MAIL? Facebook !? Or did you notice that I made the word "everywhere" clickable and were tempted? Well people, those things are called distractions and some are more powerful than others. In science terms they call it "Supernormal stimuli". It's your brain reacting from primal hard wired instinct. It happens to me all the time and don't be afraid you're likely to do it too.  Stuart Mcmillen has this explained fairly easily in a short but stunning comic.

 Stuart Mcmillen - A reptile brain sits deep within us. How much behavior comes from primal instinct? 

 Stuart Mcmillen - A reptile brain sits deep within us. How much behavior comes from primal instinct? 

Nikolaas Tinbergen a nobel prize winning ethologist is an expert on supernormal stimuli. He conducted experimental research on the instinct and behavior of animals. He concluded in several cases that the 'Artificial stimuli' were stronger than the original instinct. In laymen term they'd prefer the fake over the real thing. Tinsbergen did this by exaggerating special aspects and making them more pronounced. Here are a couple examples :

  • He constructed plaster eggs to see which one a bird preferred to sit on, finding that they would select those that were larger, had more defined markings, or more saturated color—a dayglo-bright egg with black polka dots would be selected over the bird's own pale, dappled eggs.
  • He found that territorial male stickleback fish would attack a wooden fish model more vigorously than a real male if its underside was redder.
  • He constructed cardboard dummy butterflies with more defined markings that male butterflies would try to mate with in preference to real females.

Oh No, it's in my DNA ! Well your brain actually, it's this ancient lizard part within where primal thinking takes over rational thought. This is where several things become questionable or at least interesting looking at the amazing speed of improving technology, can our brains keep up?

There are multiple examples of supernormal stimuli, a really relevant one in today's society is Food. Looking for example at Obesitas ratings in Mexico, The United States and the UK. Their appetite didn't grow all of sudden they were just triggered more. In case of material wellbeing there is more fastfood available and sometimes even cheaper than the healthy substitute. Fast food is engineered to be more appealing and our primal instincts react. Knowing this information creates essential awareness and that doesn't mean abondoning all supernormal stimuli from your life, that would be impossible. But I do think that by knowing why and how your brain works in the case of temptation, gives freedom and creates better substantiated actions in your life which supports overall quality of life. So get focus back in your life by starting to thinking about how you think. Seems like a circle but sometimes it's in trying.

C.S. Lewis has some insightful thoughts on this:

Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.

After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.

A man who gives into temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.

 If you recognize feeling like an eight year old having severe ADHD while you are on the internet, be sure to check out the video below.

if you want to know more and are interested in the mechanics of your mental and physical wellbeing check out the following blogs, were these topics were originally posted, for more in-depth information. 

Lifehacker - Supernormal Stimuli: Your Brain On Porn, Junk Food, and the Internet

Stuart Mcmillen - Supernormal Stimuli Comic 

A book by Deirdre Barret - Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose