Poster for Internet Addicts Anonymous

By Alexandra Reich
Staff Writer

A supernormal stimulus is a stimulus that elicits an unusually heightened response from an animal. Supernormal stimuli can be easily observed in nature. Nikolas Tinbergen first discovered the existence of supernormal stimuli over the course of several experiments. He found that herring gulls, when presented with an artificially large egg intentionally sized larger than what a herring gull could possibly produce, would take care of the fake egg instead of their own. When presented with two eggs in nature, herring gulls are likely motivated to take care of the larger one in order to hatch a larger chick, which would have a better chance of survival. The gulls have not been conditioned to conceive an upper limit of preferred egg size because eggs that are too large for the gulls to take care of are never produced in nature. They are unable to conceptualize the potential disadvantage in taking care of an egg that is artificially large. Tinbergen found trends of supernormal stimuli in other animals as well, occurring in certain kinds of fish and butterflies. Humans, like animals, can be enraptured by disadvantageous supernormal stimuli.

In industrialized nations, one human equivalent of supernormal stimuli corresponds to technological advances, which are relatively recent considering the timeline of evolution. Television, social media sites, and the wide availability of new information on the Internet have the tendency to draw in users for hours every day. According to one study, American adults, on average, spend over five hours total on digital media per day.

Movies and television shows hook the brain through the human capacity for emotion. Essentially, movies and television shows are abstract or lifelike pixilated images moving across a screen, yet people are so allured by the artificial characters’ personalities and struggles that they can react to the show with real emotions. A term coined by Jeffery Zachs, the “Mirror Rule,” explains the human tendency to imitate the facial expression, and to some extent, the emotion, of the human it is interacting with. Zachs argues that this rule can be applied to the characters in movies to invoke emotional responses from audience members. This concept may be applicable to human evolutionary behavior. As television was introduced relatively recently compared to how long humans have existed, human brains have evolved to be wired for face-to-face social interaction. Television shows or movies simulating human interaction that is either more interesting or more desirable than what people normally encounter could serve as a supernormal stimulus, enticing the human brain and drawing that individual away from their less interesting non-televised life.

In moderation, the consumption of imagined situations or artificial worlds is not necessarily negative. However, prolonged exposure to the supernatural stimuli of virtual Internet worlds can result in addiction. Not only is Internet addiction a legitimate condition, it is estimated to affect six percent of the population worldwide. Similar to the herring gull that cannot resist the allure of the artificially large egg, Internet addiction is an “impulse control problem” in which the affected individual prefers the ease of interacting via the internet over face-to-face societal interaction.

Online video games are a major source of Internet addiction. Theoretically, it makes sense that a video game, particularly a violent one, could act as a super stimulus. Players have the heightened experience of dominance by ‘killing’ artificial enemies without actually risking their own lives, social standing, or a potential prison sentence in the process. The only factor at risk is the virtual progress of their electronic avatar. In addition to the dominance factor, Chatfield argues in his TED talk that successful games stimulate dopamine receptors in the brain as a result of the human evolution to appreciate rewards for effort and problem-solving tasks.

Some countries have taken action against Internet addiction. To look at an extreme example, in South Korea there is a functioning summer camp intended to alleviate children’s dependence on the Internet. Jump Up Internet Rescue School is a tuition-free program that offers participants directed physical exercise as well as other offline hobbies in order to show children that they can have fun outside the confines of the online world. Interventions such as these have the potential to work well because they will reduce the sometimes drastic gap between real life stimuli and internet stimuli by having children participate in a variety of activities. Internet addiction has also been treated in the U.S. with similar mechanisms.

Internet addiction is the result of the human brain’s lack of evolutionary adaption to the supernormal stimuli presented by technology. Just as animals are unable to resist these enhanced stimuli, humans follow suit, employing technology to the point of physical health depravity and social isolation. While advancements in technology have proven beneficial to society in a variety of fields, it does present its limitations.

Image by Michael Mandiberg


By Rebecca Benest
Staff Writer

If you live in Denmark, you might turn on the publically funded television station “DR2,” and find yourself faced with a naked woman accompanied by two men conversing about her various physical attributes. But in the event that you haven’t kept up to date with Danish television, this new show, “Blachman,” has caused quite the international buzz.

Named after the creator, the premise of the show is to bring naked women on screen where they stand silently, allowing Blachman and a male guest comment on their body. While this show is definitely a chauvinistic display, it also brings up several discourses on body image and sexualization of the female body in a new, although potentially offensive, method.

The show’s namesake, Thomas Blachman, was a previous host of Denmark’s “X Factor” and is commonly called the “Simon Cowell of Denmark,” known for his regular stream of negative comments. Blachman, however, has a different angle for his new show, as his stated purpose is to get “men discussing the aesthetics of a female body without allowing the conversation to become pornographic or politically correct.” To do this, he brings of women of all ages, shapes, and sizes onto the show, in order to “revise women’s view of men’s view of women.”

The purported message of the show, however, will probably never be seen amid the hailstorm of comments and criticism following the its start. Knud Romer, a Danish author, calls it “a claustrophobic strip club which only serves to cement classic concepts of male dominance,” while Dr. Christian Jessen responds, “are naked women that shocking and shameful? Lets have a debate!”

This is the main debate “Blachman” brings about, that while it appears to be a pornographic display of chauvinistic ideals, it may also be illuminating the unnecessary stigma we place on the naked body and political correctness.

The hypocrisy of the show itself adds to this debate. The introduction states, “between pornography on the one hand and politically correct puritanism on the other side, the poetry is lost.”

Despite this, later on in the show Blachman seems to lose this poetry he speaks so highly of, with statements such as, “Now, I’ve always been an ass man. Would you mind turning around for a moment? Very animated nipples. How does that pussy work for you?” Statements like this are exactly what angers viewers and shows Blachman to be a misogynist.

As admittedly offensive as the show is, it brings up interesting issues of body image. The women on the show are not embarrassed to be there, nor do they avoid eye contact with the judges—some even smiling overbearingly as the judges comment on their bodies. These women don’t view themselves negatively, which is a “requirement” to be on the show, regardless of age or weight.

The body confidence the women on “Blachman” seem to have is not seen often, and is something that many girls and women today seem to have a problem with. The Dove Real Beauty Campaign, which recently took over social media, thought up an interesting experiment: through drawings based on oral descriptions, see how women describe themselves in comparison to how others describe them. The results were shocking: the pictures, when posed next to each other, were drastically different, and in some cases the way the woman described herself was almost unrecognizable. The way we view ourselves ultimately dictates our lifestyle, and as feminist Laura Fraser writes, “we need to protest those standards more demonstrably, reassure ourselves that we’re good and worthwhile human beings.”

“Blachman” also brings up the sexualization of the female body, which is seen drastically differently across nations. When I was 16, for example, I was at a spa in Berlin with an aunt and was shocked when I was told that clothes were not allowed inside. Terrified, I wrapped my towel around me as tightly as I could and went outside. Men and women were sitting, talking, in the saunas and pools seemingly oblivious to their nakedness. While I was utterly embarrassed, I soon became used to the environment and was almost relieved at the way bodies were not judged or micromanaged. You did not have to cover yourself, you weren’t labeled; it was just a body.

While this view is definitely more common in Europe than it is in America, and while the crude comments made on “Blachman” are unmistakably offensive, it does start to take away the stigma of the naked body by talking about the women without sexual or pornographic connotations. The documentary “Miss Representation” takes on the sexualization of women in the media and offers a solution through education and empowerment. Filmmaker Jackson Katz states, “people learn more from media than any other single source of information,” and the representations in the media affect how we view others and ourselves.

The immense power held by the TV shows and movies we watch, the magazines we read, even the songs we listen to, can dictate our views of the world without us even being aware of it and, while “Blachman” is not necessarily empowering these women, there is something the message: it is just a body. We should be able to talk about them without having to worry about being too sexual or politically correct.

Photo by Charlotte Astrid