Supernormal Stimuli

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Supernormal Stimuli comic cover. They Live movie poster drawing cartoon. Sunglasses dinosaur raptor velociraptor.
Velociraptor raptor dinosaur tooth eye claw drawing cartoon. Natural selection. A process which shapes the bodies of creatures. As well as their behaviours.
Velociraptors raptors dinosaurs drawing cartoon. A repertoire of reactions. To all environmental stimuli a wild creature will face honed by millions of years of trial and error.
Instinct. Brain cartoon drawing.
Male scientist binoculars man cartoon drawing. Enter: Niko Tinbergen. A Dutch biologist fascinated by the behaviour of animals. Systematically experimenting the triggers for their behaviours.
Bee drawing cartoon. Man with glasses reading paper. The colours, shapes, smells, patterns and sensations which formed the root of instincts. Tinbergen succeeded in isolating the traits which triggered certain instincts and then made an interesting discovery.
Peacocks tail. Peacock feathers cartoon drawing. The instincts had no bounds. Instead of stopping at a 'sweet spot', the instinctive response would still be produced by unrealistic stimuli. Once the researchers isolated the instincts' trigger they could create greatly exaggerated dummies which the animals would choose instead of a realistic alternative.
Baby birds. Bird nest puppet cartoon drawing. Songbird parents would prefer to feed fake baby birds with mouths wider and redder than their real chicks... ...and the hatchlings themselves would ignore their own parents to beg fake beaks with more dramatic markings.
Fish tank windowsill drawing cartoon. Seeing red, literally, male stickleback fish would ignore real rivals to attack wooden replicas with brightly painted underbellies... ...even reacting territorially when a red postal van passed the lab window.
Bird nest eggs flying. Moth flame candle drawing. Songbirds would abandon their pale blue eggs dappled with grey... ...and sit on black polka-dotted florescent blue dummies so big they would constantly slide off. Tinbergen called these 'supernormal stimuli'. A hijacking of animals' instincts beyond their evolutionary purpose.
Niko Tinbergen male scientist glasses painting eggs workbench cartoon drawing. Tinbergen and his students created supernormal stimuli to study the animals they were researching. But there was already a creature actively building supernormal stimuli to use on itself. Human beings.
Africa grassland elephant acacia trees. Busy city skyscrapers crowd signs cartoon drawing. With instincts evolved for hunting and gathering on the savannahs of Africa 10,000 years ago... ...most humans today find themselves in a very different environment.
Spear brain microscope cartoon. Wild boar forest salad bar buffet drawing. While our technologies and population densities have undergone amazing change in such short time, evolution has not had chance to keep pace. Our brains are the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors. And the instincts honed to seek rare rewards in a world of scarcity tug at us from all angles in a world of supernormal stimuli.
We can eat refined foods far sweeter, saltier and fattier than anything available to our ancestors We sit motionless for hours watching flicker shows of imaginary characters' 'lives'... ...or we jump into their world and try to be them. We can create characters cuter than our pets and babies... ...pornography available to anyone who wants to see it... ...and a raft of other distractions eager to hijack our attention.
City nighttime moon stars night buildings drawing cartoon. Certainly we have enough spare time, enough spare wealth to indulge in some of the pleasures supernormal stimuli can give us. But how much is enough?
Velociraptor raptor dinosaur skull brain human silhouette drawing cartoon. Supernormal stimuli work on humans because, like all animals, we have basic instincts hard-wired into our brains. A 'reptile brain' still sits deep within us. And its influence is far greater than we care to admit.
Dinosaurs velociraptors raptors cartoon. Shopping mall drawing. Faced with supernormal stimuli we often feel like our willpower has been turned to stone.
The Thinker statue cartoon. Auguste Rodin drawing. But we are gifted with another layer above the reptile brain. Another piece of circuitry able to over-ride or redirect the instincts our reptile brain shouts at us. Conscious thought. The mind.
The Thinker drawing. Putting on sunglasses cartoon. We are the only creature that can bypass the unreal and choose the real. A choice that requires a large dose of willpower. A choice only available to those who have learned to spot the dummies that surround us.
They Live movie poster cartoon. Looking over sunglasses drawing. Raptor velociraptor dinosaur. Only those who can see the supernormal can learn to silence the reptile.
They Live movie poster cartoon. Looking over sunglasses drawing. Raptor velociraptor dinosaur. Only those who can see the supernormal can learn to silence the reptile.They Live movie poster cartoon. Looking over sunglasses drawing. Raptor velociraptor dinosaur. Only those who can see the supernormal can learn to silence the reptile.They Live movie poster cartoon. Looking over sunglasses drawing. Raptor velociraptor dinosaur. Only those who can see the supernormal can learn to silence the reptile.They Live movie poster cartoon. Looking over sunglasses drawing. Raptor velociraptor dinosaur. Only those who can see the supernormal can learn to silence the reptile.

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A reptile brain sits deep within us. How much of our behaviour comes from primal instinct? 20 page comic on supernormal stimuli and ‘reptile brains’. Buy a copy of this comic book.

I wrote two blog posts reflecting on Supernormal Stimuli:

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19 March 2024

How could you explain such complicated matters so easy ??? Im very impressed 👌 Mahdi from iran P.s. The reptile brain theory has unproven for years I read that in a book published in 2020 (Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain: Lisa Feldman Barrett)


4 April 2023

brilliant comic. love and support from Turkey!


30 April 2020

Hi. I have been reading your comics for many years. Real eye-openers. Thank you very much.


18 September 2019

Thank you for amazing comic !


18 January 2019

Thank you for this wonderful work. I see it in Korea


4 May 2017

Hello Stuart! I love, love, LOVE this one! Also, I'm also an illustrator (and I've started doing comics to!) and I wonder what model of wacom you use? Can you recommend it? Best, /Charlotte Ps. I just followed you on insta ('monstersweshare'). You should post more (ok, not "should", I don't like the word "should", but it would be aweome to see more of your art and working process there! There is so much superficiality at insta today so it would be great to see some thoughtful and genuine art there as yours! Plus I think more people would find you and your art that way. Keep up the great work! :)

Is it true altruism if you enjoy it? – The Charitable Brain

22 January 2017

[…] brain cartoon by Stuart McMillen – page 14 of comic Supernormal […]


10 November 2016

Awesome comic. I'm fighting everyday to push instinct away from myself to focus more on things but im surrounded with distractions that I can't even enjoy because I know I shouldn't, because I have college work. Even when I don't have work I stress that I might have something. I give into doing nothing resting these days because it's not fun but it's still a waste of time... Idk Love the comic! I make comics too but nothing meaningful or teaching anything yet


24 July 2016

where is the data regarding humans being affected in this way? citations, please.

"Femininity is Feigned" -

12 July 2016

[…] Sidenote: Here is a good comic on supernormal stimuli (Link to comic) […]


21 May 2016

Thank you very much for this wonderful work


10 March 2016

Stuart this is amazing work! Thank you for your time and generosity.


26 January 2016

Epigenetics rewrites phylogeny. So well put. I am an At Large educator, focusing on critical thinking, Logic, and Human self knowledge. Epigenetics has allowed me to say, " your DNA does not have the instructions to build you, it has the instructions to build 10, 000 variations of you, depending on what signals reach you as you develop.We, as linguistic creatures may even have our genetic expression altered, by our intellectual environment as well as our physical one.

Lou Alvis

26 January 2016

i would like to know if it would be possible, to take your excellent materials and make the available as a video/slideshow. voice over or no voice over, suitable for posting on video hosting sites. I am an At Large educator, and this lessons is the most universally accessible have found. I would HAPPILY volunteer for this project.

idealkraft Wochenschau ? KW 40/2015 » idealkraft

2 October 2015

[…] Supernormal Stimuli Dies ist das erste Mal, dass ich einen Cartoon in der Wochenschau verlinke. Doch Supernatural Stimuli von Stuart McMillen ist so gelungen, dass ich mir das nicht nehmen lasse. Er illustriert mit eindrucksvollen Bildern, welchen unnatürlichen Reizen der Mensch des 21. Jahrhunderts ausgesetzt ist, und welche Probleme das aufwirft. Die Lösung: Solche Reize erkennen und richtig bewerten. […]


21 September 2015

Evolutionary biology, genetics, evolutionary psychology, etc have barely scratched the surface of the nature of their studies. I say this as epigenetics isn't widely known or taught yet. When I took ap bio, there wasn't even a mention of it. Evolution was described as an essentially random process, that a gecko that looks exactly like a leaf got there by random genetic mutations, but epigenetics shows out environment has a direct effect on our gene expression. Epigenetics rewrites phylogeny, especially among the diverse life in the sea, where coral have animal dna, buy can have plant rna. It is responsible for many differences between closely related species, and the muted expression of certain genes I. Domesticated organism, see many experiments in foxes, or more obviously, dogs, and humans.

Ahmad Elsaid

18 August 2015

Wow! Thank you!

Aaron Brachfeld

7 August 2015

This is a great comic! I'd like to review and promote your work in my newspaper, the Meadowlark Herald. How should I submit a request to interview you?Aaron BrachfeldMeadowlark [email protected]

Dominic J Marshall

9 July 2015

great comic


6 July 2015

Excellent piece which perfectly captures the concept of supernormal stimuli. Thank you.

King Charles

3 July 2015

Enjoyed your post! Cheers

kudzai mungani

8 May 2015

you are the best mate.your stuff is the future love it and inspired

Futurism Interviews Dr. Steve Gullans, Author of Evolving Ourselves | Futurism

5 May 2015

[…] I picked up a term recently that stemmed from Niko Tinbergen?s research in animal behavior, about supernormal stimuli– which he used to manipulate animals? behavior- and I think you see a lot of that in […]


9 March 2015

This is by far my favourite comic strip ever. So much truth presented in such a badass manner!

Stimulii supernormali |

9 February 2015

[…] nostru reptilian î?i spune cuvântul. Iat? aici o band? desenat? care explic? de ce func?ion?m […]


25 January 2015

Being aware is so important, and learning how to be authentic to yourself ( to act on your own instinct) and unfollow the crowd is not easy but is achievable - small steps! Loved the comic!

Your lizard brain and you | Lazy Fit

23 January 2015

[…] Stuart McMillen comics | Supernormal Stimuli reptile brain cartoon […]

Star Wars Explains Why We’re All Fat | Nerd Fitness

22 January 2015

[…] Our brain’s pleasure center can now get all the pleasure it wants without much effort – it’s like getting a participation trophy or earning achievement points just for turning the game on. Everything is out of whack! Stuart McMillen does a great job of explaining this in a comic. […]


4 January 2015

Absolutely amazing. You just put it all so simple and clear. Love it.


13 December 2014


Aman Sohi

8 December 2014

Very informative


7 December 2014

Great message! Very empowering for those who will choose to remember it! :)


5 December 2014

Amazing work.

Why you?re secretly addicted to food porn

16 November 2014

[…] examples of naturally occurring stimuli, he could manipulate the behavior of various animals. This comic explains it in beautiful detail, but one of his experiments included constructing unrealistically […]


30 September 2014

Liked the artwork and evolutionary commentary.

Iskra Corvino

6 September 2014

Great Job! I love it!

Patrick Vyncke

5 September 2014

I've read a lot about supernormal stimuli, yet never had it explained as clearly as in this comic. Fantastic art work that captures the essence of the concept and even induces critical thinking!


5 August 2014

Excellent comic. $2? Yoink. By the way I suggest calling it a "minimum donation" of $2. You might get more money that way! I'll be back to read more.

Saksham Kapoor

23 July 2014

Awesome! Great piece.


30 June 2014

Amazing explanation, terrific comic. Thanks for this.

Subha Kumar

26 June 2014

Simply Brilliant!

Kebatinan | Usual Storyline

28 May 2014

[…] bergambar dari Stuart Mcmillen ini bisa menyingkat banyak narasi tekstual tentang riset nobelis Niko Tinbergen dan Konrad Lorenz, […]


21 May 2014

Love the glasses/"They Live" reference


18 May 2014

Thank you, Evolutionary biology made simple enough for a child to understand and relate to. Simplicity is a rarity. I'd be interested in seeing more psychological-based comics such as this..Anyway time to watch some porn and eat a twix :P

Supernormal Stimuli: Is Your Brain Built For Porn, Junk Food And The Internet? | Lifehacker Australia

16 May 2014

[…] a bit more clearly: what exactly is a supernormal stimulus? Comic artist Stuart McMillen has a great comic to explain the concept. You should definitely read it first to get a good understanding of what a […]

Dillon Merriweather

15 May 2014

Thank you for making this comic. I have never been able to work through this thought process so fully. Thank you for the new word and a more understanding perspective. :)

Gaurav Ramesh

15 May 2014

A very thought-provoking comic/article ! Nice work.


14 May 2014

A very articulate and well thought out article, with the added bonus of it being an exceptionally drawn comic strip as well! I'm very curious about anything to do with the mind, be it psychology, psychotherapy, neuroscience, habits & behaviours etc and using a stimuli as captivating as this is a great way to learn basic to complex concepts of the subjects you showcase. Keep up the great work, Stuart!


14 May 2014

Dear Stuart,Thank you so much for this mind-opening comic. Can I translate it to Japanese?


4 March 2014

First I've seen of yours, thanks to a Facebook share. Very impressed. As a psychotherapist, I help people use their rational brain to override the Limbic, (reptilian) brain, so I'm intimately aware of this. Thanks for making it so accessible.


11 February 2014

This is golder than gold thank you!

Dave H

5 November 2013

Facking DYNOMITE! My reptilian brain likes this stimulus


17 October 2013

I guess in humans the primal brain part also gives us searching for super stimuli in greatness such as in gods and miracles, no?

Tim Wheaton

27 May 2013

That was fantastic! I was already familiar with the science, so I'm talking solely about the way your art made me engrossed in something I already know. :)


26 October 2012

This is the best one of yours I've read so far! Well thought out, funny and thought provoking, and don't think I didn't catch the They Live reference!!


12 October 2012

As many others have posted...Thank you, thank you, thank you Stuart!

Crowdfunding: your generosity needed to fund my next comic. - Stuart McMillen comics

3 October 2012

[...] and thematically, Rat Park will be a mix between St Matthew Island, Supernormal Stimuli and War on Drugs. It is a story I have researched, but have not yet been able to write or draw [...]

Louis Dam-Mikkelsen

18 September 2012

A very good read. Bookmarked.


18 September 2012


Supernormal Stimuli reflections - Stuart McMillen blog

27 August 2012

[...] Supernormal Stimuli describes the studies of Dutch biologist Niko Tinbergen, who sought to understand the root of animal instincts. Tinbergen’s experiments showed that instinctual behaviour could be triggered by specific sensations, such as colours, shapes or smells. Surprisingly, the animals would still respond with the full behavioural response even if the stimuli was exaggerated beyond realistic limits. [...]

The Comic Art of Stuart McMillen: Supernormal Stimuli

25 July 2012

[...] Supernormal Stimuli describes the studies of Dutch biologist Niko Tinbergen, who sought to understand the root of animal instincts. Tinbergen’s experiments showed that instinctual behaviour could be triggered by specific sensations, such as colours, shapes or smells. Surprisingly, the animals would still respond with the full behavioural response even if the stimuli was exaggerated beyond realistic limits. [...]

Supernormal Stimuli thoughts - Stuart McMillen comics blog

28 June 2012

[...] An explanation to these questions may be found in my latest comic – Supernormal Stimuli. [...]


28 June 2012

Thank you, Stuart. Thank you. You made me think!


29 April 2012

Well done Stu! Loved it.


27 April 2012

oooh shiny colorful icons? must? buy? pdf?


27 April 2012

we sleep - THEY LIVE

Paul & Deb McMillen

27 April 2012

Great to be with you on your new site. Exciting to see the evolution of your work over the past 20 years - can you believe that! As thought provoking and informative as ever. We await the next. Warm wishes.


27 April 2012

Excellent work, Stuart. Quite thought-provoking :)


27 April 2012

Absolutely amazing! Great artwork and story! Very impressed!


26 April 2012

Unbelieveable! This is fantastic!


26 April 2012

excellent as per usual Stubart. I await the next.

Jason H

26 April 2012

Great work. Best yet. Cheers J

Emily R

26 April 2012

Great work Stu, I loved it. You are truly gifted.


26 April 2012

Its exciting to see some new work from you. Great as always. I like the new site too.


26 April 2012

This installment of You Are Not So Smart ( is extremely relevant to the issue of primal stimuli and the reserves of willpower we need to resist them. I encourage you to take a look at it.


26 April 2012

After having read your research section, I had to add that I loved the solution to this problem of supernormal stimuli, which is 'Get of the plaster egg' !!Well said. :-)


26 April 2012

*Loved* this one. Brilliant! But oh-so-many philosophical and scientific issues it brings up... for example, is it realistic to argue that we can over-ride our instincts and attraction for the supernormal stimuli when the planet is groaning under the weight of the west's obesity, and porn makes up an absurdly high % of web traffic? All signs point to 'no' I think ;-) ...but then again a small percentage of people do seem to be able to ignore the fast food and porn... and yet... one of the defining characteristics of Homo sapiens is our curiosity and thirst for knowledge... who's to say that the internet, and libraries before that, are not to be considered 'supernormal stimuli' -i.e. the web as information-porn.... I'm certainly guilty of that 'abusing' that instinct!The other issue is the rigidity of our brains... I'm not arguing against this attraction to supernormal instinct, but I did read a book recently called The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, and it argues that our brains are far more 'plastic' than medicine or science previously thought... and that we're far less 'hardwired' than we ever thought. Which is good and bad news perhaps, in hat if those supernormal attractions do manage to reel us in, they really could shape our brains to be far more 'maladjusted' (I would argue), than if we *were* more hardwired.... if that makes sense. Anyway, I really enjoyed this, and keep up the good work!


26 April 2012

Nice one!!!


26 April 2012

I love this. Real life makes for good comics!


26 April 2012

I like the way you philosophically present facts without forcing an agenda down anyone's throat. It's lovely food for thought :)

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