The Science of Cute

February 26, 2009
By

kitten hiding under a pink blanketIn the latest installment of the series “The Science of YouTube,” the folks over at Popular Science investigate why videos of cute things–sleepy kittens, fluffy puppies, and sneezing baby pandas—are so popular and compelling. It turns out that Konrad Lorenz, Austrian ethologist, Nobel-prize winner, and subject of Richard W. Burkhardt Jr.’s Patterns of Behavior: Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and the Founding of Ethology, had some theories about cuteness nearly sixty years before YouTube would become the internet’s repository of all videos prosh. Lorenz theorized that certain “infantile features”—like big heads, large eyes, button noses, and round bodies—trigger a nurturing response in adults. Evolutionarily, this makes us more likely to care for our offspring, but our preference for cuteness is so strong it spills over to other species. So, the next time you catch yourself browsing cuteoverload.com, remember, resistance is futile—you are evolutionarily hard wired to say “awwwwwww.”
For more on Konrad Lorenz and the science of ethology, check out Burkhardt’s award-winning book.

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