How Porn, Video Games & Social Hijack our Instincts

In the modern age, porn, junk food, social media, and video games are what I consider to be the “big 4 threats to personal development”, and if we want to have any hope whatsoever at learning how to properly manage them, we need to first understand how they quite literally hijack our very own primal urges so that they can use them against us by becoming supernormal stimuli. 

“Supernormal stimuli are any stimuli that elicit an instinctual reaction more strongly than does the stimulus for which the instinct evolved…

The essence of the supernormal stimulus is that the exaggerated imitation can exert a stronger pull than the real thing”

Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose By Deirdre Barrett

One afternoon, a scientist and his students watched as a goose gave chase to a volleyball, hoping to save the volleyball and return it to her nest, while she completely ignored her own egg as it tumbled along the ground just a few feet away. What had happened here was that the bigger, rounder volleyball actually triggered the mother goose’s primal instincts to a far greater extent than that of her own smaller, oval shaped eggs. 

This same phenomenon, which science refers to as code breaking, has been observed and successfully replicated in countless animal species, including human beings, where instincts that evolved to promote survival, can be essentially “overridden”  by exaggerated imitations of the stimuli that they’re based on, otherwise referred to as supernormal stimuli, a term coined by the same scientist in our goose story, Nobel Prize winning ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen.

To describe these exaggerated versions of a stimulus which elicit a stronger response than the stimulus for which it evolved, we are, on a daily basis, bombarded by these “supernormal” stimuli particularly the big 4, porn is an exaggerated imitation of the stimulus of human reproduction, junk food is an exaggerated imitation of the stimulus of real food, social media is an exaggerated representation of humanity’s social fabric, video games are an exaggerated imitation of real life scenarios, and achievement.

Each of these things essentially exploit our primal, biological instincts, hijacking our bodies reward systems in ways that often cause us to be more motivated towards those things, with little motivation for the things that, deep down, we know that we should actually be motivated towards. 

So how do we flip the script? 

How do we go back to doing the things that make us more attractive to ideal partners, instead of just consuming massive amounts of porn, How do we get back to choosing salad over sweets, lifting weights over  lifting our cell phones up to our faces, increasing our career rankings instead of increasing our ranking in Call of Duty.

In this video I’m going to deconstruct each of these supernormal stimuli, so that we can regain control and choose what things we want to be motivated towards.

#1. Fast food hijacks our instinct to consume high calories

Our basic taste buds, which we use to identify sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami flavors, evolved to help our ancestors identify safe, high calorie foods , while avoiding toxic substances, while dopamine systems evolved to create the motivation towards doing the things that would likely result in getting high calorie foods. 

Dopamine systems were as important in creating the motivation to hunt, as they were in helping our ancient ancestors to recall the path back to a trove of apple trees, now for hunter-gatherers who didn’t necessarily know where their next meal was coming from this was of course massively important. 

However for the typical modern day human, not so much, the people who “engineer” fast food aren’t cooks, they’re scientists backed by profit-hungry companies who understand how to hijack our evolutionary instinct to consume high calorie foods, if we’ve ever had a big mac, french fries, and a vanilla shake, the next time we got hungry, we were probably thinking about that same meal or something similar, because fast food, given it’s high calorie nature combined with low cost and ease of access, triggers our dopamine systems to motivate towards that same high calorie, easy-to-obtain food as part of our evolutionary survival mechanism, which hasn’t evolved to understand that we no longer need to fashion our own weapons and organize hunting parties to get our next meal, we just need to use our phone. 

#2. Porn hijacks our instinct to reproduce

We are biologically wired to seek out specific desirable traits in potential mates, we’re instinctively attracted to men with strong features and muscled bodies, women with fuller lips and child bearing breasts and hips, porn is all of that, but on steroids. ULTRA HD videos featuring women with pumpkin sized fake breasts and men with horse sized penises, groaning and screaming in exaggerated ways as they engage in utterly unrealistic “casual sex” that allows us to escape into equally unrealistic  fantasies.

These heavily exagerrated representations take sex from being a “normal” stimulus, and turn it into a “supernormal stimulus”. 

Resulting in a massive dopamine dump that is exponentially exacerbated by the fact it’s all just a few clicks away on our smartphones and so the more we consume the supernormal stimulus porn, which our bodies see as a high reward, low friction activity, more dopamine gets released, the more motivated we are to keep consuming more porn, at the cost of motivation towards other things. 

#3. Social media hijacks our instinct to seek social approval

Even before language, had evolved our human ancestors had already learned the critical importance of cooperation and group harmony, which meant shared resources, and greater protections against looming predators. As a result, we are genetically hardwired to seek approval from our peers.

Social Media understands this and hijacks this instinct to keep us in a perpetual approval seeking loop. Every post is an opportunity to demonstrate value and increase our harmony within the group, every like that we receive is a signal of approval, our brain sees all of this as increasing our chances of survival. 

Furthermore, within these ancient tribes, there were “ranking systems”, where an individuals rank was determined by numerous factors, including the individual’s skills, knowledge, experience, desirability to the opposite sex, and relationships with the rest of the tribe, within social media, we’re not seeing someone as they actually are, we’re seeing their virtual projection of themself, which are often curated to highlight most, and in some cases all of those ranking factors. 

So how do our primitive brains make sense of all of this? 

The sad answer is that they don’t. Our brains don’t see these as “digital projections”, we see people as their digital projections, which is why overconsumption of social media makes us feel depressed about our own, much more real experience of ourselves. It’s as if we’re the perpetual weakest link within the tribe.

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#4. Video games hijack our instinct to feel progress

Video games are, for better or for worse, the pinnacle of supernormal stimuli, anything and everything in real life can be believably replicated in a virtual world and reconstructed to include all of the ‘reward’ elements, without any of the risk. 

Let’s discuss two of the most popular genres in modern gaming: first person shooters and massively multiplayer online role-playing games.

FPS games, Call of Duty, are so rewarding because they so closely mimic the activity of hunting, from the firing of projectiles at mobile targets, to the cooperation with teammates and coordination of an attack, our instinct to hunt thrived because hunters had a better chance to produce healthy offspring thanks to the nutrition and sustenance provided by a fresh kill. 

MMORPGS on the other hand, are another highly popular and notoriously addictive genre with a plethora of supernormal stimuli built into its content, games like World of Warcraft simulate an exaggerated sense of progression by including ranking systems, rare equipment, and achievements.

In real life, while you may just be a lowly student, or work a 9-5, online, you can be level 90 elven warlock, even fetch quests are forms of supernormal stimuli that simulate the activity of foraging, go to x area and retrieve x number of items or kill x number of monsters, where we we can somehow carry 999+ iron ore in our inventory and all we need to do to “jack-in” to these exaggerated realities, is turn on the tv and hold a button down on the controller for a few seconds. 

Summary

So, to recap.

There are big 4 stimuli that most threaten our own personal development journey by hijacking our primal instincts.

#1. Fast food hijacks our instinct to consume calories

Our taste buds evolved to help our ancestors avoid toxic substances and identify nutritious, high calorie food. The chemists behind our favorite fast foods engineer recipes that exploit this instinct through excess amounts of unhealthy, calorie dense ingredients. 

#2. Porn hijacks our instinct to reproduce

Porn hijacks our strongest, most intense primal instinct, the instinct to reproduce. Porn exaggerates these instinctive cues, while also making them immediately accessible. 

#3. Social media hijacks our instinct for social approval

For our ancestors, cooperation was necessary for survival and so we evolved to seek approval from peers, social media exaggerates all of this by fostering perpetual validation-seeking behavior. While also putting us into “unfair” competition with the heavily filtered digital projections of our peers. 

#4. Video games hijack our instinct to hunt and seek prestige

Video games allow us to experience everything from hunting to the accumulation of prestige and ranking within online worlds. Exaggerated simulations that allow us to experience all of the reward with none of the risk.  

The really important thing to understand is how each of the big 4 stimuli that we’ve discussed in this video, negatively affect our dopamine systems, which is the system that evolved to motivated us towards certain actions that we perceived would yield a reward and thus increase our chances of survival, which is exactly why the more we consume any of these things, the more motivated we are to do those things, possibly even leading to full blown addiction and the less motivation feel towards the things that we actually want to feel motivation towards. 

Why go through the effort of eating “healthy” when we can push a button and be eating something delicious within a few minutes.

Why get in the car and travel to a gym to slowly increase strength, when we can experience the strength of gods by just pushing a few buttons? 

How the fuck are we supposed to contend with stimuli that is, with each passing day, is evolving to be more and more artifically exaggerated,  by companies with unlimited resources who have hired the brightest and greatest minds the world has ever seen?

How? Disconnect

First, we need to break the cycle of these things, spend a few days in nature without a cell phone, eat only healthy meals for a week, try NOFAP, or at least stop watching porn for a while, and see how you feel. 

Chances are that within just a few short days, you’ll start to feel amazing, which can help to give us the context that we need to more profoundly understand the negative influences that these things are having on our lives, even just a few days of detox is enough for the neural pathways within our brains to begin to change, so that our dopamine systems can start to instead motivate us towards the things that will actually improve our lives. 

If you enjoy learning about dopamine and how to optimize it, I’ve got a full playlist on the topic and click here if you want to check out “Dark Mode”, a simple system I developed to help disconnect from these negative addictions simultaneously achieving incredible goals.

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Ciao and cya in the next post.

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