The Science of Cuteness- How do we perceive cute?

Watch the video coverage of Siku, the adorable Danish polar bear.

It is so fluffy I’m going to die.

It really is Cute!

But what is cute?

Cute (adj.)

1731, “clever,” shortening of acute; informal sense of “pretty” is 1834, American English student slang. Related: Cuteness.

The How and What of Cute-

Ever wondered why most of us can spend hours looking at videos or pictures of disgustingly cute babies, puppies, polar bears and others?

I hereby name this scientific marvel ‘The AWWWW effect’The feeling you get when you see round fat widdle puppeh bellies and big smooshy pumpkin faces and those puppy dog eyes.[Insert cuteness overloaded picture here]


OK, got carried away for a second. So where were we? Cuteness.


What is cute? And why do cute cuddly things have an effect on us?

The answer is- It’s all about how we perceive babies.
Babies have got big eyes, smacked in the middle of a chubby face and short limbs- well that doesn’t sound cute.

But you know what I mean!

Why baby versions of animals melt our hearts and why do we find them so much cuter than their full-grown counterparts? Really, what does it mean for something to be cute?

Konrad Lorenz studied the cuteness in living things and put together a list of things we consider cute- Things that have a small body size, large eyes and round cuddly features.

But just why these features cause an AWWWW response in us, is because you can find all those characteristics in a human baby.

But Where is cute?


All cute stuff makes people special kind of crazy, and we will be horrible scientists if we didn’t know why. Researchers studied the brain activity when cute baby pictures were shown to subjects.
The cuter the baby is, the more activation found in the pleasure centre of the brain called the “Nucleus Accumbens”.
The squee cuteness causes a burst in the pleasure centre -A happy feeling caused due to the release of dopamine.

Turns out, the science of cuteness is more evolutionary rooted and far more interesting than you‘d think.


Evolutionary psychology relates to why we find some features attractive and others repulsive. Such preferences have been adaptive in our ancestors, although this may seem subjective and elusive. It is definitely fun to think about.

Babies didn’t evolve to be cute. We evolved to think that babies are cute.

Cuteness is evolutions tricky way of triggering nurturing instincts in adults to look after anything that looks like a cute baby.

Of course, as they get older babies get less cute. But by then, evolution’s work is done. Tricksy! But it is a good one.

I “used” to be cute…sigh!

What about the cute cuddly animals?

The qualities of cuteness are transferable from human to non-human creatures and even cartoons forms. It is this so-called impression that connects the biological with emotional concerns.

Kittens, puppies and pandas turn us into softies. But why don’t we have the same reaction to a baby lizard or even a bird?

We developed strong inclinations for features like – Disproportionately large heads, big eyes set fairly low on the face, small noses and round soft bodies.

Kittens -big eyes, large heads, small noses? Check.

Pandas: Check.

Puppies: Yup.

That might even be one reason why our pet dogs and cats look quite different to their wild ancestors – we’ve bred the cute into them. We chose these animals for their juvenile features, unaggressive behaviour and childlike characteristics.

The reason we find animals cute or ugly is that we’re using criteria that have evolved to help us evaluate members of our own species.  Baby animals are cute because natural selection has made us go all mushy when we see the big, round head of a human infant.  We don’t like the star-nosed mole for the same reason.

Beauty (here cuteness) lies in the eyes- and- brain (now we know) of the beholder. Scientific evidence shows our biology leads our taste or maybe co-evolves with them.

And it seems our bar is set so low that we can take anything and add big foreheads, big eyes, cute chubby pout – The vegetable is now cute, right?!


Stock Photography:

Articles on the science of cute:


Picture Courtesy: Flickr Creative Commons And Stock Images


11 Responses to “The Science of Cuteness- How do we perceive cute?”

  1. whlau says:

    The photos are all so cute! “big eyes, large heads, small noses and round cuddly features.” lead me to think of Doraemon…..:P

  2. Deepika says:

    @Wendy- Yes, its true babies are cute by default 😉

  3. Wendy Nguyen says:

    I remember I read somewhere saying that babies are cute be default. LOL. It is related to ratio of their body.

  4. Deepika says:

    Thank you all for reading!:)

  5. Krishna says:

    Sooooooooo much research on cuteness 😀

  6. Shailee Patel says:

    This post makes me wanna go AWWWWWW!!! 😀 The pictures used are extremly CUTE 😀

  7. Priti Arora says:

    Wow..Thanks for such an informative and cute post, Deepika.

  8. setiawan says:

    Interesting and informative. I didn’t even know there is a science behind cuteness. Loving the style of your writing 🙂 OMG and I just died looking at all those pictures you put up *Cute stuff overload*. :p

  9. Liang Ma says:

    AAAWWWW, those little animals are so cute! the point that human are responsible for the cuteness inside pets is so true. This is a interesting post. I’ll watch the baby polar bear again.

  10. Lucy says:

    Hey really good post. I knew how and why we found babies cute, but I had never transcribed that onto why we find some animals cute. Cheers!

  11. Jeane Angelina says:

    Deepika, this is enjoyable to read 🙂 and your picture is AAAWW so cuteee hihi