19 February 2008

Cute as a Button

I hadn't been reading Cute Overload lately, but I checked in again recently to fawn over the adorable animals. This of course led to the question, why do humans think baby animals (especially mammals) are cute?
(photos to the right taken from Cute Overload)

Well, Cute Overload has made a list of what makes animal pictures cute (the Rules of Cuteness), and I think two of their rules in particular pertain to why, as humans, we find them so adorable. Rule #2 is "Look helpless" and rule #6 is "Mimic humans".

It seems that since human babies are helpless when born, humans have been wired to respond to and help things that look infantile (like round faces, forward facing eyes, round ears, and floppy limbs to name a few). There was an interesting article titled The Cute Factor, published in the New York Times in 2006, that had this to say about cute animals:

"The human cuteness detector is set at such a low bar, researchers said, that it sweeps in and deems cute practically anything remotely resembling a human baby or a part thereof, and so ends up including the young of virtually every mammalian species, fuzzy-headed birds like Japanese cranes, woolly bear caterpillars, a bobbing balloon, a big round rock stacked on a smaller rock, a colon, a hyphen and a close parenthesis typed in succession....

Madison Avenue may adapt its strategies for maximal tweaking of our inherent baby radar, but babies themselves, evolutionary scientists say, did not really evolve to be cute. Instead, most of their salient qualities stem from the demands of human anatomy and the human brain, and became appealing to a potential caretaker's eye only because infants wouldn't survive otherwise.

Human babies have unusually large heads because humans have unusually large brains. Their heads are round because their brains continue to grow throughout the first months of life, and the plates of the skull stay flexible and unfused to accommodate the development. Baby eyes and ears are situated comparatively far down the face and skull, and only later migrate upward in proportion to the development of bones in the cheek and jaw areas.

Baby eyes are also notably forward-facing, the binocular vision a likely legacy of our tree-dwelling ancestry, and all our favorite Disney characters also sport forward-facing eyes, including the ducks and mice, species that in reality have eyes on the sides of their heads.

The cartilage tissue in an infant's nose is comparatively soft and undeveloped, which is why most babies have button noses. Baby skin sits relatively loose on the body, rather than being taut, the better to stretch for growth spurts to come, said Paul H. Morris, an evolutionary scientist at the University of Portsmouth in England; that lax packaging accentuates the overall roundness of form.

Baby movements are notably clumsy, an amusing combination of jerky and delayed, because learning to coordinate the body's many bilateral sets of large and fine muscle groups requires years of practice. On starting to walk, toddlers struggle continuously to balance themselves between left foot and right, and so the toddler gait consists as much of lateral movement as of any forward momentum."

Advertisers understand our reaction to all things cute. This is especially true in Japan, where the concept of kawaii (cuteness) pervades many things from products to governmental warnings. Any one who has been a girl or is raising girls understands the immense draw of Sanrio characters like Hello Kitty. The oddest example that I have seen of making objects cute is kawaii poo.

So, no need to be ashamed at your love of baby animals. It's in our nature to want to cuddle and protect them.


cath said...

what about cute things? click on my name and check out the hello kitty usb drive. it's cute - but what makes it cute? you can hardly see hello kitty, so it isn't that.

Jesse said...

I think cute things come in all shapes and sizes! I had a guinea pig before but it died with ome sort of illness on august 17 2007 while i was at my aunts!!His name was Blackiii! It was sad because he wasnt eating and wouldnt open his eyes it was like they were glued shut!!