Image from Wikimedia Commons
Soft skin, chubby cheeks, pure giggles, and cartoon eyes. All baby creatures are cute and small. Their big, round eyes draw us in closer and closer until we just want to gift the infant with an infinite amount of affection. It also always almost true that most people find baby animals much cuter than their parents. But who knew that a baby’s elaborate disguise of cuteness was the work of evolution?
In a competitive environment, adult animals have little incentive to care for the young who hog the already scarce resources. But, an infant’s cute appearance allows them to live and grow past their fragile state under these circumstances. In species whose young depend on parental care, their physical characteristics may be adaptive to increase their own chances of surviving and creating their own offspring in the future because they are able to attract us through all of our senses, shaping our behavior towards them. Humans may find babies so adorable due to many similarities among them such as: rounded, chubby faces, large heads, small noses, itty-bitty mouths, their sweet sounds, and plump, squishy bodies. By utilizing these traits, adult humans are less aggressive, more gentle, and caring towards the infants of their own species and other baby animals.
Interestingly, cuteness may facilitate well-being and complex relationships by activating certain areas of the brain that are associated with emotion and pleasure. The reason why we are so attracted to “cute” things is because our brains are flooded with ‘feel-good’ chemicals when we look at them. This is called cuteness aggression: when you have reactions caused by experiencing something cute. If you are having a bad day, you can search the internet for pictures of some baby puppies and, bada bing bada boom, you feel better from the chemicals sent to your brain.
Babies may promote better bonds between the adult and infant so that others are tempted to love and care for these innocent looking creatures regardless of parental status or gender. Research shows how when we look at cute babies, we tend to put extra effort in order to look at them longer and it initiates slower responses in the brain that is connected to caregiving and bonding. According to Professor Morten Kringelach of Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, “care-giving involves a complex choreography of slow, careful, deliberate, and long-lasting prosocial behaviors, which ignite fundamental brain pleasure systems that are also engaged when eating food or listening to music, and always involve pleasant experiences”. Parenting is a good example how cuteness can trigger these slow responses because it evokes empathy and compassion. With these traits, cuteness may also boost moral concern. For example, many foundations, non-profit organizations, and charities may use images of infant animals in order to encourage monetary donations.
An infant may be adorable, but they are also smart. Many infants of other species have found methods in order to exploit human preferences of cuteness in order to manipulate humans. Rescue puppies, for instance, form different facial expressions that they found humans enjoy. The dogs who pulled these stunts were found to be more likely to be adopted…what tricksters!
The next time you see an infant, make sure to consider what makes them so cute before gushing over them. They may be setting you up in a cuteness trap!