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"Humans feel affection for animals with juvenile features: large eyes, bulging craniums, retreating chins (left column). Small-eyed, long-snouted animals (right column) do not elicit the same response." --Konrad Lorenz Animal human growth skull neoteny cuteness maturation.png
"Humans feel affection for animals with juvenile features: large eyes, bulging craniums, retreating chins (left column). Small-eyed, long-snouted animals (right column) do not elicit the same response." —Konrad Lorenz

Cuteness is a subjective term describing a type of attractiveness commonly associated with youth and appearance, as well as a scientific concept and analytical model in ethology, first introduced by Konrad Lorenz. [2] Lorenz proposed the concept of baby schema (Kindchenschema), a set of facial and body features, that make a creature appear "cute" and activate ("release") in others the motivation to care for it. [3] Cuteness may be ascribed to people as well as things that are regarded as attractive or charming. [4]


Juvenile traits

Change of head proportions (especially the relative size of the maxilla and mandible) as a function of age Kopfproportionen.svg
Change of head proportions (especially the relative size of the maxilla and mandible) as a function of age
Angel MET CT 17352.jpg
Angel MET CT 17351.jpg
Example of two cute Baroque angels from southern Germany, from the mid-18th century, made of lindenwood, gilded and with original polychromy, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Doug Jones, a visiting scholar in anthropology at Cornell University, said that the proportions of facial features change with age due to changes in hard tissue and soft tissue, and Jones said that these "age-related changes" cause juvenile animals to have the "characteristic 'cute' appearance" of proportionately smaller snouts, higher foreheads and larger eyes than their adult counterparts. In terms of hard tissue, Jones said that the neurocranium grows a lot in juveniles while the bones for the nose and the parts of the skull involved in chewing food only reach maximum growth later. In terms of soft tissue, Jones said that the cartilaginous tissues of the ears and nose continue to grow throughout a person's lifetime, starting at age twenty-five the eyebrows descend on the "supraorbital rim" from a position above the supraorbital rim to a position below it, the "lateral aspect of the eyebrows" sags with age, making the eyes appear smaller, and the red part of the lips gets thinner with age due to loss of connective tissue. [5]

A study found that the faces of "attractive"Northern Italian Caucasian children have "characteristics of babyness" such as a "larger forehead", a smaller jaw, "a proportionately larger and more prominent maxilla", a wider face, a flatter face and larger "anteroposterior" facial dimensions than the Northern Italian Caucasian children used as a reference. [6]

Biological function

Konrad Lorenz argued in 1949 that infantile features triggered nurturing responses in adults and that this was an evolutionary adaptation which helped ensure that adults cared for their children, ultimately securing the survival of the species. Some later scientific studies have provided further evidence for Lorenz's theory. For example, it has been shown that human adults react positively to infants who are stereotypically cute. Studies have also shown that responses to cuteness—and to facial attractiveness in general—seem to be similar across and within cultures. [7] In a study conducted by Stephan Hamann of Emory University, he found using an fMRI, that cute pictures increased brain activity in the orbital frontal cortex. [8]

Growth pattern of children

Desmond Collins, who was an Extension Lecturer of Archaeology at London University, [9] said that the lengthened youth period of humans is part of neoteny. [10]

Physical anthropologist Barry Bogin said that the pattern of children's growth may intentionally increase the duration of their cuteness. Bogin said that the human brain reaches adult size when the body is only 40 percent complete, when "dental maturation is only 58 percent complete" and when "reproductive maturation is only 10 percent complete". Bogin said that this allometry of human growth allows children to have a "superficially infantile" appearance (large skull, small face, small body and sexual underdevelopment) longer than in other "mammalian species". Bogin said that this cute appearance causes a "nurturing" and "care-giving" response in "older individuals". [11]

Neoteny in humans is characterized by attributes of a large cranium, large eyes, small face, and small body Toddler boy.jpg
Neoteny in humans is characterized by attributes of a large cranium, large eyes, small face, and small body

Gender differences

The perceived cuteness of an infant is influenced by the gender and behavior of the infant. [12] [13] In the Koyama et al. (2006) research, female infants are seen as cute for the physical attraction that female infants display more than male infants; [12] whereas research by Karraker (1990) demonstrates that a caregiver's attention and involvement in the male infant's protection could be solely based on the perception of happiness and attractiveness of the child. [13]

The gender of an observer can determine their perception of the difference in cuteness. In a study by Sprengelmeyer et al. (2009) it was suggested that women were more sensitive to small differences in cuteness than the same aged men. This suggests that reproductive hormones in women are important for determining cuteness. [14]

This finding has also been demonstrated in a study conducted by T.R. Alley in which he had 25 undergraduate students (consisting of 7 men and 18 women) rate cuteness of infants depending on different characteristics such as age, behavioral traits, and physical characteristics such as head shape, and facial feature configuration. [15]

Preference in young children

Borgi et al. stated that young children demonstrate a preference for faces with a more "infantile facial" arrangement i.e. a rounder face, a higher forehead, bigger eyes, a smaller nose and a smaller mouth. In a study that used three- to six-year-old children, Borgi et al. (2014) asserted that the children showed a viewing time preference toward the eyes of "high infantile" faces of dogs, cats and humans as opposed to "low infantile" faces of those three species. [16]

Hormones and cuteness variation

There are suggestions that hormone levels can affect a person's perception of cuteness. Konrad Lorenz suggests that "caretaking behaviour and affective orientation" towards infants as an innate mechanism, and this is triggered by cute characteristics such as "chubby cheeks" and large eyes. The Sprengelmeyer et al. (2009) study expands on this claim by manipulating baby pictures to test groups on their ability to detect differences in cuteness. The studies show that premenopausal women detected cuteness better than same aged postmenopausal women. Furthermore, to support this claim, women taking birth control pills that raise levels of reproductive hormones detect cuteness better than same aged women not taking the pill. [14]

Sprengelmeyer gathered 24 young women, 24 young men, and 24 older women to participate in his study. He ran three studies in which images of white European babies were shown, and the participants were asked to rate them on a cuteness scale of one to seven. The study found differences among the groups in cuteness discrimination, which ruled out cohort and social influences on perceived cuteness. In the second study it was found that premenopausal women discriminated cuteness at a higher level than their postmenopausal female peers. This finding suggested a biological factor, which was then investigated further in the third study. Here, Sprengelmeyer compared cuteness sensitivity between premenopausal women who were, and were not taking oral contraceptives. The study concluded that post-perceptual processes were impacted by hormone levels (progesterone and estrogen specifically) in females, and thus impacted sensitivity to cuteness. [14]

Caregiving correlates

A study by Konrad Lorenz in the early 1940s found that the shape of an infant's head positively correlated with adult caregiving and an increased perception of "cute". However a study by Thomas Alley found no such correlation and pointed out faulty procedures in that study. Alley's study found that cephalic head shape of an infant did induce a positive response from adults, and these children were considered to be more "cute". In his study, Alley had 25 undergraduate students rate line drawings of an infant's face. The same drawing was used each time, however the cephalic head shape was changed using a cardioidal transformation (a transformation that models cephalic growth in relation to ageing process) to adjust the perceived age; other features of the face were not changed. The study concluded that a large head shape increased perceived cuteness, which then elicited a positive response in adult caretaking. The study also noted that perceived cuteness was also dependent on other physical and behavioural characteristics of the child, including age. [15]

In a study by McCabe (1984) of children whose ages ranged from toddlers to teenagers, the children with more "adult-like" facial proportions were more likely to have experienced physical abuse than children of the same age who had less "adult-like" facial proportions. [17]

A study by Karraker (1990) suggested that "an adult's beliefs about the personality and expected behavior of an infant can influence the adult's interaction with the infant", and gave evidence that in this way "basic cuteness effects may occasionally be obscured in particular infants". [13] Koyama (2006) said that an adult caregiver's perception of an infant's cuteness can motivate the amount of care and protection the caregiver provides, and the admiration demonstrated toward the infant, and concluded that "the adults' protective feeling for children appeared to be a more important criterion for the judgment of a boy's cuteness." [12]

Melanie Glocker (2009) provided experimental evidence that infants' cuteness motivates caretaking in adults, even if they are not related to the infant. [18] Glocker asked individuals to rate the level of cuteness of pictured infants and noted the motivation that these participants had to care for the infants. The research suggested that individuals' rating of the perceived cuteness of an infant corresponded to the level of motivation an individual had to care for this infant. [18] Glocker and colleagues then used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to demonstrate that baby faces with higher content of baby schema features, generated more activation in the nucleus accumbens, a small brain area central to motivation and reward. [3] This work elucidated the neural mechanism through which baby schema (Kindchenschema) may motivate ("release") caretaking behavior. Furthermore, cute infants were more likely to be adopted and rated as more "likeable, friendly, healthy and competent" than infants who were less cute. There is an implication that baby schema response is crucial to human development because it lays the foundation for care giving and the relationship between child and caretaker. [18]

Sherman, Haidt, & Coan (2009), in two experiments, found that exposure to high cuteness stimuli increased performance when playing the Operation game, a task that requires extreme carefulness. The study said that the shift in behavior toward greater carefulness is consistent with the viewpoint that cuteness is something that releases the human caregiving system. The study said that the shift in behavior toward greater carefulness also makes sense as an adaptation for caring for small children. [19]

Cultural significance

Doug Jones, a visiting scholar in anthropology at Cornell University, said that the faces of monkeys, dogs, birds and even the fronts of cars can be made to appear cuter by morphing them with a "cardioidal" (heart-shaped) mathematical transformation. Jones said that negative cardioidal strain results in faces appearing less mature and cuter by causing facial features at the top of the face to expand outward and upward while causing features at the bottom of the face to contract inward and upward. [5]

Stephen Jay Gould said that over time Mickey Mouse had been drawn to resemble a juvenile more with a relatively larger head, larger eyes, a larger and more bulging cranium, a less sloping and more rounded forehead, shorter, thicker and "pudgier" legs, thicker arms and a thicker snout which gave the appearance of being less protrusive. Gould suggested that this change in Mickey's image was intended to increase his popularity by making him appear cuter and "inoffensive". Gould said that the neotenous changes to Mickey's form were similar to the neotenous changes that occurred in human evolution. [1]

Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D. in psychology from Boston University, said "cartoonists capitalize on our innate preferences for juvenile features", and she mentioned Mickey Mouse and Bambi as examples of this trend. She said Mickey Mouse's bodily proportions "aged in reverse" since his inception, because "[h]is eyes and head kept getting bigger while his limbs kept getting shorter and thicker", culminating in him resembling a "human infant". She further mentioned the "exaggerated high forehead" and the "doe eyes" of Bambi as another example of this trend. [20]

Mark J. Estren, Ph.D. in psychology from the University at Buffalo, [21] said cute animals get more public attention and scientific study due to having physical characteristics that would be considered neotenous from the perspective of human development. Estren said that humans should be mindful of their bias for cute animals, so animals that would not be considered cute are also valued in addition to cute animals. [22]

The perception of cuteness is culturally diverse. The differences across cultures can be significantly associated to the need to be socially accepted. [23]

Cute animals

Sherman, Haidt, & Coan (2009) used images of puppies and kittens for the study's "high cuteness" stimuli in two experiments. [19]

William R. Miller, assistant professor of biology at Baker University in Kansas, said that most people, upon seeing tardigrades, say that they are the cutest invertebrates. [24]

Kenta Takada (2016) said that Miyanoshita (2008) said that the design of chocolates made to look like rhinoceros beetle larvae is a design that is both cute and disgusting. [25]

Evolutionary biologists suspect that "puppy dog eyes", a trait absent from wild wolves, were unintentionally selected for by humans during the domestication of dogs. [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

Neoteny, also called juvenilization, is the delaying or slowing of the physiological development of an organism, typically an animal. Neoteny is found in modern humans. In progenesis, sexual development is accelerated.

Face Part of the body at the front of the head

The face is the front of an animal's head that features three of the head's sense organs, the eyes, nose, and mouth, and through which animals express many of their emotions. The face is crucial for human identity, and damage such as scarring or developmental deformities affects the psyche adversely.

Facial expression

A facial expression is one or more motions or positions of the muscles beneath the skin of the face. According to one set of controversial theories, these movements convey the emotional state of an individual to observers. Facial expressions are a form of nonverbal communication. They are a primary means of conveying social information between humans, but they also occur in most other mammals and some other animal species.

Face perception is an individual's understanding and interpretation of the face, particularly the human face, especially in relation to the associated information processing in the brain. Facial features play an important role in human development, carrying a wealth of social information. Infants as young as two years old have been shown to be capable of mimicking the facial expressions of an adult, displaying their capacity to note details like mouth and eye shape as well as to move their own muscles in a way that produces similar patterns in their faces.

Eye contact

Eye contact occurs when two animals look at each other's eyes at the same time. In human beings, eye contact is a form of nonverbal communication and is thought to have a large influence on social behavior. Coined in the early to mid-1960s, the term came from the West to often define the act as a meaningful and important sign of confidence, respect, and social communication. The customs and significance of eye contact vary between societies, with religious and social differences often altering its meaning greatly.

Physical attractiveness Degree to which a persons physical traits are considered aesthetically pleasing or beautiful

Physical attractiveness is the degree to which a person's physical features are considered aesthetically pleasing or beautiful. The term often implies sexual attractiveness or desirability, but can also be distinct from either. There are many factors which influence one person's attraction to another, with physical aspects being one of them. Physical attraction itself includes universal perceptions common to all human cultures such as facial symmetry, sociocultural dependent attributes and personal preferences unique to a particular individual.

Psychosexual development

In Freudian psychology, psychosexual development is a central element of the psychoanalytic sexual drive theory. Freud believed that personality developed through a series of childhood stages in which pleasure seeking energies from the id became focused on certain erogenous areas. An erogenous zone is characterized as an area of the body that is particularly sensitive to stimulation. The five psychosexual stages are the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latent, and the genital. The erogenous zone associated with each stage serves as a source of pleasure. Being unsatisfied at any particular stage can result in fixation. On the other hand, being satisfied can result in a healthy personality. Sigmund Freud proposed that if the child experienced frustration at any of the psychosexual developmental stages, they would experience anxiety that would persist into adulthood as a neurosis, a functional mental disorder.

Cognitive development is a field of study in neuroscience and psychology focusing on a child's development in terms of information processing, conceptual resources, perceptual skill, language learning, and other aspects of the developed adult brain and cognitive psychology. Qualitative differences between how a child processes their waking experience and how an adult processes their waking experience are acknowledged. Cognitive development is defined as the emergence of the ability to consciously cognize, understand, and articulate their understanding in adult terms. Cognitive development is how a person perceives, thinks, and gains understanding of their world through the relations of genetic and learning factors. There are four stages to cognitive information development. They are, reasoning, intelligence, language, and memory. These stages start when the baby is about 18 months old, they play with toys, listen to their parents speak, they watch tv, anything that catches their attention helps build their cognitive development.

Facial symmetry

Facial symmetry is one specific measure of bodily symmetry. Along with traits such as averageness and youthfulness it influences judgments of aesthetic traits of physical attractiveness and beauty. For instance, in mate selection, people have been shown to have a preference for symmetry.

Infant visual development

Infant vision concerns the development of visual ability in human infants from birth through the first years of life. The aspects of human vision which develop following birth include visual acuity, tracking, color perception, depth perception, and object recognition.

In physical attractiveness studies, averageness describes the physical beauty that results from averaging the facial features of people of the same gender and approximately the same age. The majority of averageness studies have focused on photographic overlay studies of human faces, in which images are morphed together. The term "average" is used strictly to denote the technical definition of the mathematical mean. An averaged face is not unremarkable, but is, in fact, quite good looking. Nor is it typical in the sense of common or frequently occurring in the population, though it appears familiar, and is typical in the sense that it is a good example of a face that is representative of the category of faces.

Andrew N. Meltzoff is an American psychologist and an internationally recognized expert on infant and child development. His discoveries about infant imitation greatly advanced the scientific understanding of early cognition, personality and brain development.

Attractiveness or attraction is a quality that causes an interest, desire in, or gravitation to something or someone. Attraction may also refer to the object of the attraction itself, as in tourist attraction.

Infant cognitive development is the first stage of human cognitive development, in the youngest children. The academic field of infant cognitive development studies of how psychological processes involved in thinking and knowing develop in young children. Information is acquired in a number of ways including through sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and language, all of which require processing by our cognitive system.

Human ethology is the study of human behavior. Ethology as a discipline is generally thought of as a sub-category of biology, though psychological theories have been developed based on ethological ideas. The bridging between biological sciences and social sciences creates an understanding of human ethology. The International Society for Human Ethology is dedicated to advancing the study and understanding of human ethology.

Kewpie doll effect

The Kewpie doll effect is a term used in developmental psychology derived from research in ethology to help explain how a child's physical features, such as lengthened forehead and rounded face, motivate the infant's caregiver to take care of them. The child's physical features are said to resemble a Kewpie doll.

Social cues are verbal or non-verbal signals expressed through the face, body, voice, motion and guide conversations as well as other social interactions by influencing our impressions of and responses to others. These percepts are important communicative tools as they convey important social and contextual information and therefore facilitate social understanding.

Mate preferences in humans refers to why one human chooses or chooses not to mate with another human and their reasoning why. Men and women have been observed having different criteria as what makes a good or ideal mate. A potential mate's socioeconomic status has also been seen as having a noticeable effect, especially in developing areas where social status is more emphasized.

Developmental homeostasis is a process in which animals develop more or less normally, despite defective genes and deficient environments. It is an organisms ability to overcome certain circumstances in order to develop normally. This can be either a physical or mental circumstance that interferes with either a physical or mental trait. Many species have a specific norm, where those who fit that norm prosper while those who don't are killed or find it difficult to thrive. It is important that the animal be able to interact with the other group members effectively. Animals must learn their species' norms early to live a normal, successful life for that species.

Neoteny in humans

Neoteny in humans is the retention of juvenile features well into adulthood. This trend is greatly amplified in humans especially when compared to non-human primates. Adult humans more closely resemble the infants of gorillas and chimpanzees than the adults. Neotenic features of the head include the globular skull; thinness of skull bones; the reduction of the brow ridge; the large brain; the flattened and broadened face; the hairless face; hair on the head; larger eyes; ear shape; small nose; small teeth; and the small maxilla and mandible.


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