The Cute Factor | The Thinking Blog ~ Knowledge Grows When Shared
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17 May 2007

The Cute Factor

Scientists who study the evolution of visual signaling have identified a wide and still expanding assortment of features and behaviors that make something look cute: bright forward-facing eyes set low on a big round face, a pair of big round ears, floppy limbs and a side-to-side, teeter-totter gait, among many others. Infantile personality traits, such as playfulness, fragility, helplessness, curiosity, innocence, affectionate behavior and a need to be nurtured are also generally considered cute.

SO CUTE"Omigosh, look at him! He is too cute!"

Cute cues are those that indicate extreme youth, vulnerability, harmlessness and need, scientists say, and attending to them closely makes good Darwinian sense. As a species whose youngest members are so pathetically helpless they can't lift their heads to suckle without adult supervision, human beings must be wired to respond quickly and gamely to any and all signs of infantile desire.

The human cuteness detector is set at such a low bar, researchers said, that it sweeps in and deems cute practically anything remotely resembling a human baby or a part thereof, and so ends up including the young of virtually every mammalian species, fuzzy-headed birds like Japanese cranes, woolly bear caterpillars, a bobbing balloon, a big round rock stacked on a smaller rock, a colon, a hyphen and a close parenthesis typed in succession.

The greater the number of cute cues that an animal or object happens to possess, or the more exaggerated the signals may be, the louder and more italicized are the squeals provoked.

Cuteness is distinct from beauty, researchers say, emphasizing rounded over sculptured, soft over refined, clumsy over quick. Beauty attracts admiration and demands a pedestal; cuteness attracts affection and demands a lap. Beauty is rare and brutal, despoiled by a single pimple. Cuteness is commonplace and generous, content on occasion to cosegregate with homeliness.

"How adorable! I wish I could just reach in there and give him a big squeeze!"

Cuteness is a major marketing tool in many cultures. This is most famously the case in Japan, where cuteness is a national obsession known as kawaii. Of course, cuteness is also an important selling point in the West. Elmo, The Family Circus, Furby, Precious Moments, and many other cultural icons and products trade on their cuteness—not to mention the overwhelming international success of Japanese exports like Pok√©mon or Hello Kitty. It can be a factor in live action productions such as the successful documentary film, March of the Penguins, where the intense cuteness of the penguins was cited as a major reason for the film's outstanding appeal.

Whatever needs pitching, cute can help. A recent study at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at the University of Michigan showed that high school students were far more likely to believe antismoking messages accompanied by cute cartoon characters like a penguin in a red jacket or a smirking polar bear than when the warnings were delivered unadorned.

"It made a huge difference. The kids expressed more confidence in the cartoons than in the warnings themselves."

"He's so fuzzy! I've never seen anything so cute in my life!"

Then it is no surprise that the blogosphere is filling with content full of cuteness. Whether it be cute pictures or videos, certainly there is an increase in the number of such blogs. Cute overload, The Cute Project, Things That Make You Go Aahh and Stuff On My Cat just to name a few. Of course, The Thinking Blog also had a piece of cuteness in the past - even though it was unintentional. Really! ^_^




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