After a long, hard day, it’s not uncommon for people to destress by looking at pictures of cute animals. Studies have shown that looking at cute things creates a significant mood-lifting effect on our brains. It’s no wonder, then, that the internet overflows with pictures and videos of puppies and kittens doing adorable (and sometimes even mischievous!) things. Ask any given pet owner, and they’re sure to have a camera roll full of their fur babies.
Baby animals often get the best reputation for being the masters of cute. That said, even when our pets get older, we dote on them as though they are still just puppies or kittens. Believe it or not, there is a scientific reason for this--and it is not just because we tend to put our own pets on a pedestal. So what exactly is the science behind cute?
What Makes Animals Cute?
One thing that most of us can’t get enough of is a round head that is considerably larger than the body supporting it. Add a small face into the mix, and you have the ultimate recipe for cute. This is why baby animals are considered even cuter than adults; they simply have not grown into their big heads yet!
Big headedness is not the only trait we humans can’t resist going “awwww” over. We also gravitate toward round bodies, especially when they are paired with stubby limbs that cause their owner to teeter as they walk. Think baby ducks; they waddle everywhere they go!
Humans also love animals that appear to be perfect for petting, which is why furry animals like dogs and cats tend to be crowd pleasers. There is a scientific reason behind this softness, too! Animals that are soft will usually have elastic skin and ample body fat, making them perfect for cuddling.
All that said, an animal’s cuteness goes beyond its fluffiness, floppy ears, and awkward body. The cutest animals also brim with personality and are usually very playful and curious. After all, who does not love chasing around a puppy who found a new favorite toy?
Why Do We Respond to Cuteness?
So why do we find all these traits so adorable anyway? The answer is simple; these attributes suggest youthfulness and helplessness, which also happen to be the hallmark traits of human babies. In fact, our brains don’t know how to differentiate between what is a human baby and what isn’t. On the most basic level, both baby humans and baby animals warrant the same level of care and protection.
Think about it: How often have you seen one of your dog’s floppy ears flip inside out and felt compelled to fix it for them? What about when your cat gets his claws stuck on something? Don’t you often hurry to free him?
More often than not, our pets can fix their problems themselves, but our protective instincts make us want to do it for them. Even strays who appear to be digging their independent life outdoors trigger our innate need to nurture. We want to take that mangy mutt or scrappy tomcat home with us and shower it with love.
In fact, our instinct to protect the vulnerable is so strong that we are often drawn to animals that do not boast the typical “cute” traits (think hairless dogs and cats). This is because our biological drive is to continue our species. Unlike animals, babies are completely reliant on adults to take care of them. Our nurturing instincts are there to make sure they can grow enough to take care of themselves. Sometimes those “babies” just happen to have four legs instead of two!
Cuteness: A Practical Trait?
Arguably no animal has undergone selective breeding to the degree that dogs have, which is why different breeds can vary so wildly in appearance and temperament. People have been breeding dogs for specific traits for centuries. When we think of desirable traits, we often think of the more “practical” ones, like the ability to hunt, run fast, or herd sheep.
Believe it or not, cuteness is also high on the list. For example, miniature and toy breeds are quite popular, as they never quite outgrow their “baby” appearance. Even some cats are bred for cuteness. An example is the munchkin cat, which has legs that are far too short for its body.
Humans cannot claim all the credit for animals’ cuteness, however. Some scientists believe that dogs have evolved to look cute on their own. A 2014 study found that dogs who raised their inner brows and widened their eyes were more likely to get adopted over dogs who did not. These expressions made them look more baby-like and thus were more effective than other qualities--even tail wagging.
In other words? Puppy-dog eyes work!
Want to capture your pet’s cuteness for the world to see? Reach out to us at Iconic Paw for a one-of-a-kind pet portrait!