My uncle has a cat. His name is Moe. He’s the brown one in the picture above, chilling out with his sister Mally.
Moe is, fortunately for Moe, considered very cute by adults. This means my uncle feeds him and pets him and treats him sort of like a small hairy child.
Moe is also, unfortunately for Moe, considered very cute by children. This means that children grab Moe and tug at him until Moe gets frustrated and runs away.
It has always seemed obvious to parents and others that watch young children that they respond to cuteness, even if it is only in a very Lennie from Of Mice and Men way. But new research has shown just how deep and early this cuteness response really is.
A recently released study found that even children as young as three were able to recognize what’s known as the “baby-schema,” a set of infantile features, across different species. The research was conducted by PhD student Marta Borgi and Professor Kerstin Meints, members of the Evolution and Development Research Group in the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln, UK.
Recognizing the baby schema, a round face, high forehead, big eyes and a small nose and mouth, as “cute” is important in adults, because it encourages caregiving behavior and lowers aggression towards the young.
The study showed that it’s also a factor for children between the ages of three and six. The study used eye tracking and interviews to determine how the children responded to images of adult and infant humans, cats, and dogs. Some of the images were digitally manipulated to make them seem narrower and less cute. Some were made cuter.
“This study is important for several reasons. We already knew that adults experience this baby schema effect, finding babies with more infantile features cuter. Our results provide the first rigorous demonstration that a visual preference for these traits emerges very early during development. Independently of the species viewed, children in our study spent more time looking at images with a higher degree of these baby-like features,” Borgi said.
“Interestingly, while participants gave different cuteness scores to dogs, cats and humans, they all found the images of adult dog faces cuter than both adult cats and human faces,” she said.
Okay, dog people, scientific proof that dogs are cuter than cats. There you go.
This research could be important in teaching children about safety around animals, helping to understand why adults pet the puppy dog and the child wants to pull its tail. They may be too overwhelmed by the cuteness to understand they’re hurting the animal.
“We have also demonstrated that children are highly attracted to dogs and puppies, and we now need to find out if that attractiveness may override children’s ability to recognise stress signalling in dogs,” said Professor Kerstin Meints, Professor in Developmental Psychology at Lincoln’s School of Psychology, who supervised the research.
“This study will also lead to further research with an impact on real life, namely whether the ‘cuteness’ of an animal in rescue centres makes them more or less likely to be adopted,” she said.
[Source: Science Daily]