A supernormal stimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus from which it evolved.

The Dutch ethologist and ornithologist Niko Tinbergen constructed an artificial stimulus consisting of a red knitting needle with three white bands painted around it. This elicited a stronger food-begging response among chicks than an accurate three-dimensional model of the Herring Gull’s white head and yellow bill with a red spot. Tinbergen and his students studied other variations of this effect, experimenting with dummy plaster eggs of various sizes and markings, finding that most birds preferred eggs with more exaggerated markings than their own, more saturated versions of their color, and a larger size than their own.

Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett argues that supernormal stimulation governs the behavior of humans as powerfully as that of animals. In her 2010 book, Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose, she examines the impact of supernormal stimuli on the diversion of impulses for nurturing, sexuality, romance, territoriality, defense, and the entertainment industry’s hijacking of our social instincts. In her earlier book, Waistland, she explains junk food as an exaggerated stimulus to cravings for salt, sugar, and fats and television as an exaggeration of social cues of laughter, smiling faces and attention-grabbing action.

An episode of the PBS science show NOVA showed an Australian beetle species whose males were sexually attracted to large and orange females, the larger and more orange the better. This became a problem when the males started to attempt to mate with certain beer bottles that were just the right color. The males were more attracted to the bottles than actual females.



Oneiromancy is a form of divination based upon dreams. It is a system of dream interpretation that uses dreams to predict the future. Dream divination was a common feature of Greek and Roman religion and literature of all genres.

Oneirocritic literature is the traditional literary format of dream interpretation. Artemidorus was a professional diviner and author known for the five volume Greek work Oneirocritica. According to Artemidorus, the material for his work was gathered from diviners during lengthy travels through Greece, Italy and Asia.

Artemidorus writes that dream interpretation is nothing other than the juxtaposition of similarities, but like other types of Greek divination, including astrology, celestial divination and pallomancy, Oneiromancy became exceedingly complex, with a given dream subject to a number of interpretations.

Dreams occur throughout the Bible as omens or messages from God. Jacob dreamed of a ladder to heaven and his son Joseph dreamed of his future success and interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt. The Magi are told in a dream to avoid Herod on their journey home, and Joseph, husband of Mary, was directed to flee to Egypt.


Instinct is the inherent inclination of a living organism toward a particular behavior. Instinctual actions have no learning curve. They are hard-wired and ready to use without learning. Some instinctual behaviors depend on maturational processes to appear.

Immediate instinct, also known as imprinting, causes geese to follow around the first moving object that they encounter, as it tends to be their mother. A favorable trait, such as an instinct, can improve survival rate of life forms possessing the instinct.

Many scientists consider that it is instinctual in children to put everything in their mouths, because this is how they tell their immune system about the environment and the surroundings, and what the immune system should adapt to.

A displacement activity is a behavior that is the result of two contradicting instincts in a particular situation. A human may scratch its head when it does not know which of two options to choose. Similarly, a bird may peck at grass when uncertain whether to attack or flee from an opponent.


Ethical dilemma is a complex situation that will often involve an apparent mental conflict between moral imperatives, in which to obey one would result in transgressing another. This is also called an ethical paradox since in moral philosophy, paradox plays a central role in ethics debates. For instance, an ethical admonition to “love thy neighbor as thy self” is not always in contrast with, but sometimes in contradiction to an armed neighbor actively trying to harm you. If he or she succeeds, you will not be able to love him or her.

But to preemptively attack them or restrain them is not usually understood as loving. This is one of the classic examples of an ethical decision clashing or conflicting with an organismic decision, one that would be made only from the perspective of animal survival. An animal is thought to act only in its immediate perceived bodily self-interests when faced with bodily harm, and to have limited ability to perceive alternatives.

However, human beings have complex social relationships that can’t be ignored. If one has an ethical relationship with the neighbour trying to kill you, then, usually, their desire to kill you would likely be the result of mental illness on their part. Such conflicts might be settled by some other path that has strong social support. Societies formed criminal justice systems, ethical traditions and religions to defuse just such deep conflicts. Such systems always impose trained judges who are presumed to have an ethical relationship and also a clear obligation to all who come before them.

Ethical dilemmas are often cited in an attempt to refute an ethical system or moral code, as well as the world view that encompasses or grows from it. Where a structural conflict is involved, dilemmas will very often recur. A trivial example is working with a bad operating system whose error messages do not match the problems the user perceives. Each such error presents the user with a dilemma: reboot the machine and continue working, or spend time trying to reproduce the problem for the benefit of the developer of the operating system and everyone that experiences the same situation.


Personology is a field of study which relies on physiology and facial features to analyze and predict character traits and behavior. It was developed in the 1930s by Edward Vincent Jones, a Los Angeles Circuit Court judge, who took notes on the behavioral patterns of those who appeared in his courtroom, and eventually surmised that he could predict people’s behavior by observing their facial features and other physical attributes.

Fascinated by his discovery, Jones abandoned his judicial career to begin researching subjects and is said to have compiled a list of 200 distinct facial features. After Jones performed a cold reading on the wife of Robert L. Whiteside, a newspaper editor, Whiteside became an ardent supporter of personology, and is claimed to have proved personology’s validity in an experiment that used 1,068 subjects and found the accuracy to be better than 90%.

Whiteside and other personologists used scientific methodology to validate personological traits during three different times over the course of 20 years in the latter portion of the 20th century. Examples of supposed personology correlations include:

  • Wide jaw: authoritative in speech and action; linked to high testosterone levels, affecting both bone development and personality in both males and females
  • Square chin: can be combative; also linked to high testosterone levels in males and females
  • Narrow jaw or chin: tends to be passive; linked to low testosterone levels in males and females, nurturing behavior in females, affecting both bone development and personality in males and females
  • Coarse hair: less sensitive
  • Fine hair: extremely sensitive
  • Curly, frizzy, wild hair: ‘mad scientist’ stereotype; thinks outside or ahead of the norm

The Personology Research & Development Center in the U.S. claims that personology can aid in customer relations, hiring and personal development, and can be beneficial in areas such as career counseling, conflict resolution, marriage partner compatibility, and stress management.


A vagabond is an itinerant person. Such people may be called drifters, tramps, rogues, or hobos. A vagabond is characterised by almost continuous travelling, lacking a fixed home, temporary abode, or permanent residence. Vagabonds are not bums, as bums are not known for travelling, preferring to stay in one location.

Historically, vagabond was a British legal term similar to vagrant, deriving from the Latin for “purposeless wandering”. Following the Peasants’ Revolt, British constables were authorised under a 1383 statute to collar vagabonds and force them to show their means of support. If they could not, they were jailed. Under a 1495 statute, vagabonds could be sentenced to the stocks for three days and nights. In 1530, whipping was added. The assumption was that vagabonds were unlicensed beggars.

By the 19th century the vagabond was associated more closely with Bohemianism. The critic Arthur Compton-Rickett compiled a review of the type, in which he defined it as men “with a vagrant strain in the blood, and a natural inquisitiveness about the world beyond their doors.” Examples included Henry David Thoreau, Michael John Arthur Bujold, Walt Whitman, Leo Tolstoy, William Hazlitt, and Thomas de Quincey. A notable 20th century vagabond was the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos.


Snail racing is a sport that involves the racing of two or more snails. There are numerous events that take place around the world, though the majority take place in the United Kingdom.

Snail races usually take place on a circular track with the snails starting in the middle and racing to the perimeter. The track usually takes the form of a damp cloth atop a table. The radius is traditionally set at 13 or 14 inches. Racing numbers are painted on the shells or small stickers or tags are placed on them to distinguish each competitor.

The annual “World Snail Racing Championships” started in Congham, Norfolk in the 1960s after founder Tom Elwes witnessed the event in France. The 1995 race saw the setting of the benchmark time of two minutes by a snail named Archie. The 2007 event, sponsored by Persil, had to be cancelled when the course was waterlogged by a prolonged period of heavy rain.

The first official competitive snail race in London, the “Guinness Gastropod Championship” held in 1999, was commentated by horse racing pundit John McCririck who started the race with the words “Ready, Steady, Slow”. This is now common terminology for the start of a race. The following year Guinness featured a snail race as part of their “Good things come to those who wait” campaign. The advert won the silver award at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival and was self-parodied for their “Extra Cold” campaign several years later.

The “Grand Championship Snail Race” began in Cambridgeshire in 1992 in the village of Snailwell as part of its annual summer fête. It regularly attracts up to 400 people to the village, more than doubling its usual population.


Wasps of the genus Sphex, commonly known as digger wasps, are predator insects that sting and paralyze prey insects. There are over 130 known digger wasp species. In preparation for egg laying they construct a protected nest in dry soil. Some species dig nests in the ground, while others use pre-existing holes. They then stock the nest with captured insects. Typically the prey are left alive, but paralyzed by wasp toxins. When the wasp larvae hatch, they feed on the paralyzed insects.

A well-known species of digger wasp is the great golden digger which is found in North America. The developing wasps spend the winter in their nest. When the new generation of adults emerge, they contain the genetically-programmed behaviors that are required to carry out another season of nest building. During the summer, a female might build as many as half a dozen nests, each with several compartments for her eggs. The building and provisioning of the nests takes place in a stereotypical, step-by-step fashion.

Some Sphex wasps drop a paralyzed insect near the opening of the nest. Before taking provisions into the nest, the Sphex first inspects the nest, leaving the prey outside. During the wasp’s inspection of the nest an experimenter can move the prey a few inches away from the opening of the nest. When the Sphex emerges from the nest ready to drag in the prey, it finds the prey missing. The Sphex quickly locates the moved prey, but now its behavioral “program” has been reset. After dragging the prey back to the opening of the nest, once again the Sphex is compelled to inspect the nest, so the prey is again dropped and left outside during another stereotypical inspection of the nest.

This iteration can be repeated again and again, with the Sphex never seeming to notice what is going on, never able to escape from its genetically-programmed sequence of behaviors. Some writers in the philosophy of mind, most notably Daniel Dennett, have cited the behavior of this animal for their arguments about human and animal free will. Douglas Hofstadter and Daniel Dennett have used this mechanistic behavior as an example of how seemingly thoughtful behavior can actually be quite mindless, the opposite of the human behavioral flexibility that we experience as free will.

In addition to this seemingly instinctive and programmed behavior, the Sphex has been shown, as in some Jean Henri Fabre studies, not to count how many crickets it collects for its nest. Although the wasp instinctively searches for four crickets, it cannot take into account a lost cricket, whether the cricket has been lost to ants or flies or simply been misplaced. Sphex drags its cricket prey towards its burrow by the antennae. If the antennae of the cricket are cut off, the wasp would not think to continue to pull its prey by a leg.

The navigation abilities and other behavior of Sphex were studied by the ethologist Nico Tinbergen, as explained and demonstrated by Richard Dawkins in the 1991 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, Growing Up in the Universe.


icon_40Sheep are ruminant mammals typically kept as livestock. One of the earliest animals to be domesticated for agricultural purposes, sheep are raised for fleece, meat and milk. A sheep’s wool is the most widely used of any animal, and is usually harvested by shearing.

Being a key animal in the history of farming, sheep have a deeply entrenched place in human culture, and find representation in much modern language and symbology. As livestock, sheep are most often associated with pastoral imagery. In contemporary English language usage, people who are timid or easily led are often compared to sheep.

Sheep are prey animals with a strong gregarious instinct, and a majority of sheep behaviors can be understood in these terms. The dominance hierarchy of sheep and their natural inclination to follow a leader to new pastures were the pivotal factors in it being one of the first domesticated livestock species. All sheep have a tendency to congregate close to other members of a flock, although this behavior varies with breed. Farmers exploit this behavior to keep sheep together on unfenced pastures and to move them more easily. Shepherds may also use sheepdogs in this effort, whose highly bred herding ability can assist in moving flocks.

Flock dynamics in sheep are only exhibited in a group of four or more sheep. Fewer sheep may not react as normally expected when alone or with few other sheep. For sheep, the primary defense mechanism is simply to flee from danger when their flight zone is crossed. Cornered sheep may charge or threaten to do so through hoof stamping and aggressive posture. This is particularly true for ewes with newborn lambs.

In displaying flocking, sheep have a strong lead and follow tendency, and a leader often as not is simply the first sheep to move. However, sheep do establish a pecking order through physical displays of dominance. Dominant animals are inclined to be more aggressive with other sheep, and usually feed first at troughs. Primarily among rams, horn size is a factor in the flock hierarchy. Rams with different size horns may be less inclined to fight to establish pecking order, while rams with similarly sized horns are more so.

Sheep can become stressed when separated from their flock members. They can recognize individual human and ovine faces, and remember them for years. Relationships in flocks tend to be closest among related sheep. In mixed breed flocks, same breed subgroups tend to form, and a ewe and her direct descendants often move as a unit within large flocks.

Sheep are frequently thought of as extremely unintelligent animals. A sheep’s herd mentality and quickness to flee and panic in the face of stress often make shepherding a difficult endeavor for the uninitiated. Despite these perceptions, a University of Illinois monograph on sheep found them to be just below pigs and on par with cattle in IQ, and some sheep have shown problem solving abilities.

A flock in West Yorkshire, England allegedly found a way to get over cattle grids by rolling on their backs. In addition to long term facial recognition of individuals, sheep can also differentiate emotional states through facial characteristics. If worked with patiently, sheep may learn their names, and many sheep are trained to be led by halter for showing and other purposes. Sheep have also responded well to clicker training. Very rarely, sheep are used as pack animals. Tibetan nomads distribute baggage equally throughout a flock as it is herded between living sites.


Karen Horney (pronounced “horn-eye”) was a German psychodynamic psychologist of Norwegian and Dutch descent. Her theories questioned traditional Freudian views as well as the instinct orientation of psychoanalysis and its genetic psychology.

From roughly the age of nine Horney changed her perspective on life, becoming ambitious and somewhat rebellious. She felt that she could not become pretty and instead decided to vest her energies into her intellectual qualities. At this time she developed a crush on her older brother, who became embarrassed by her attentions. It was here Horney suffered her first of several bouts of depression that would plague her for the rest of her life.

Horney looked at neurosis in a different light from other psychoanalysts of the time. Horney believed neurosis to be a continuous process, with neuroses commonly occurring sporadically in one’s lifetime. This was in contrast to the opinions of her contemporaries who believed neurosis was a negative malfunction of the mind in response to external stimuli, such as bereavement, divorce or negative experiences during childhood and adolescence.

From her experiences as a psychiatrist, Horney named ten patterns of neurotic needs. These ten needs are based upon things which she thought all humans require to succeed in life. A neurotic person could theoretically exhibit all of these needs, though in practice much fewer than ten need be present to constitute a person having a neurosis. The ten needs, as set out by Horney, are as follows:

Moving Toward People

1. The need for affection and approval. Pleasing others and being liked by them.

2. The need for a partner. One whom they can love and who will solve all problems.

Moving Against People

3. The need for power. The ability to bend wills and achieve control over others. While most persons seek strength, the neurotic may be desperate for it.

4. The need to exploit others, to get the better of them. To become manipulative, fostering the belief that people are there simply to be used.

5. The need for social recognition, prestige and limelight.

6. The need for personal admiration, for both inner and outer qualities. To be valued.

7. The need for personal achievement. Though virtually all persons wish to make achievements, the neurotic may be desperate for achievement.

Moving Away from People

8. The need for self sufficiency and independence. While most desire some autonomy, the neurotic may simply wish to discard other individuals entirely.

9. The need for perfection. While many are driven to perfect their lives in the form of well being, the neurotic may display a fear of being slightly flawed.

10. Lastly, the need to restrict life practices to within narrow borders. To live as inconspicuous a life as possible.

As implied, while non-neurotic individuals may strive for these needs, neurotics exhibit a much deeper, more willful and concentrated desire to fulfill the said needs. Horney, together with fellow psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, formed the Neo-Freudian discipline.

Through her views on the individual psyche, Horney postulated that the self is in fact the core of one’s own being and potential. Horney believed that if one has an accurate conception of oneself, then one is free to realize one’s potential and achieve what one wishes. Thus, she believed that self-actualization is the healthy person’s aim through life, as opposed to the neurotic’s clinging to a set of key needs.