Science

Researchers discover sense of ‘cuteness’ is innate — here’s what it looks like

The New York Times once called cat pictures an “essential building block of the Internet”– and now we know why. Humans are hard-wired to identify cuteness. A new study finds that infants will gaze longer at pictures of cats, babies, and dogs that were manipulated to have a “large head and a round face, a high and protruding forehead, large eyes, and a small nose and mouth.”

Interest was quantified with eye-tracking technology that could measure how long infants looked at a particular image. The picture above shows the subtle differences in eyes, forehead, and mouth that can make something worthy of rapt attention or casual dismissal.

Though it is a cheap trick of savvy marketers, the science helps us understand why cute animals are an effective tool even when we know the trick. Democrats led an entire imformation campaign full of cute animal pictures to get people to sign up for healthcare through the new healthcare.gov website.

Look at that hamster on a swing. It’s adorable. It doesn’t matter what you think of Obamacare.

Given the inextricability of cuteness and human attention, it’s likely that animals will continue to be a central component of Internet click-bait. You may not like that. But, you know what?

Here’s a tiny hedgehog:

14 comments
Süleyman Okan
Süleyman Okan

13 sentences, 4 of them on Obamacare. Way to go VB!

Mir Ahsan
Mir Ahsan

Weather that's human nature or a societal conjecture it hurts more than helps. That's why you see the more aggresive homeless animals still in cages. I say give them all a chance. In adopting kids to.

Bryan Zirkel
Bryan Zirkel

I think the Japanese figured this out a long time ago. Just looked at how manga/anime characters are drawn.

Eamonn Gormley
Eamonn Gormley

I wonder if anyone can figure out the cat/dog conundrum of some people finding only one or the other cute. I find cats cute but dogs either annoying or terrifying. Some people dote over dogs but are indifferent to cats, and they even have a dislike for people who don't share their reaction to dogs. Why?