The science of cute

with 3 comments

Why do small helpless things – babies, kittens, puppies, pandas in baby form – turn even the most cynical human into a helpless wreck..?

But why? Why do small helpless things – babies, kittens, puppies, pandas in baby form – turn even the most cynical human into a helpless wreck? Why don’t we have the same reaction to a baby lizard or fish or bird? What, in short, is this cuteness thing all about? It turns out that the science of cute is far more interesting than you’d think.

Cuteness is evolution’s devious way of getting you to look after your offspring. Human babies – unlike many other species – are totally dependent on their parents for years after their birth. And you’d find it hard to overlook the constant interruptions to your life if babies weren’t so darn cute.

Zoologist Konrad Loranz argued way back in 1949 that the typical baby face – big eyes, heads large in comparison to their bodies and small noses – turned adults into happy baby-tending machines. More recently, researchers found that babies perceived as more cute made parents more willing to drop everything and look after them. Clever trick, babies.

So why does that transfer to animals? Well, it turns out our brains latch on to pretty much anything with the same criteria. Kittens: big eyes, large heads, small noses. Baby pandas: ditto. Puppies: yep. That might even be one reason why domestic dogs and cats look quite different to their wild ancestors – we’ve bred the cute into them…

Of course, babies get less cute as they get older. Their bodies grow in proportion to their heads. Their eyes seem less huge. They gain co-ordination. But by then, evolution’s work is done. It’s a trick – but it’s a good one.

And it’s been way too long since the last time we had a panda photo here at eideard.com. :)

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Written by Ed Campbell

August 15, 2012 at 2:00 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Yes it’s amazing how we’re designed so perfectly that way. I already knew this as a child. Not all of us need “science” to tell us what was already obvious.


    August 15, 2012 at 8:31 pm

  2. Science confirms what many guess is si, hope is, and human beings ain’t always bad at guessing.

    But “design”? It is to laugh.


    August 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm

  3. I can’t help myself… that is such a cute panda!!!

    Michelle at Motley News

    August 17, 2012 at 9:00 pm

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