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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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse/status/383273773824086017/photo/1]


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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:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Bvu_T3detc]

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