Baby animals and the science of being adorable

Imagine the following: fluffy, silly little kittens. Cuddly lambs. Playful baby elephants. Puppies. Fragile little deer. Do you feel all warm and fuzzy inside yet? Baby animals have this effect on people, and it’s completely normal. We discover the reasons behind the charm of baby animals.

Nature’s grand plan

Plenty of studies have been done about the reaction of people when they are shown pictures of human babies, with these reactions being mostly positive. Looking at babies makes us feel all kinds of positive emotions, such as a bigger sense of tenderness, less aggressiveness and a sense of wanting to protect the little one. We are programmed to react this way towards the young of our own species, as this encourages us to take care of them as best possible, hence ensuring the survival of our species. Interestingly, though, seeing a baby animal elicits the same type of response in humans. This is thought to be mainly because baby animals typically share the same characteristics as human babies, such as large eyes, a rounded face with a small nose and a plump body with that typical newborn clumsiness. These features release a host of feel-good chemicals in our brains, recreating the feeling of being in love.

“I could just eat you up!”

Watching a few videos of kittens online will no doubt put a smile on your face after a long, frustrating day. But have you ever looked at videos or pictures of adorable animals and thought that you just want to hug and squeeze them? Or, how many times have you seen human babies getting their cheeks pinched? Yes, overwhelming cuteness makes us feel great – so much so that the brain tries to compensate for it with feelings of aggression. Disturbing as it may sound, this is called ‘cuteness aggression’ and it’s actually quite normal. Despite how you are feeling, you do not in this case mean to really harm the baby in question. The reasoning behind this reaction is that it helps you to keep your emotions in control – which you need to be able to do if you are raising a small person. In essence the positive and negative emotions cancel each other out, helping you to regain your emotional equilibrium.

An interesting experiment was used to demonstrate cuteness aggression in 2015. In this study participants were given bubble wrap to hold while they looked at pictures of cute baby animals. The study found that they popped more bubble wrap while looking at the images of baby animals than when looking at adult animals. This shows that there is an impulse to squeeze something when you are exposed to something adorable, but the researchers stressed that it is not with any real intent to cause harm.

The ones who are not so cute

All animals are beautiful in their own way, but to be honest, not all babies have that distinctive cuteness factor. The reason for this is how animals experience vastly different childhoods among the species. Some animals are born, and then simply go on with their lives without needing parental care. These are typically the babies who don’t really have the characteristics that are considered cute, like insects, reptiles and fish. Other species need to be cared for by their parents while they are young in order to survive. Mammals are mostly born needing to be cared for in order to grow up with the skills they need to survive, and they will tend to score higher on the adorable scale. Humans need to find their babies cute, as it assists in the stresses that come with raising them. The same goes in the animal kingdom – the bond between baby and mother needs to be so strong that mom will do anything to ensure her child’s survival, for the simple reason of survival of the species.


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