Why Do We Think Puppies Are Cute? It’s In Our Genes

Christina Peden
by Christina Peden
There’s a scientific reason puppies and kittens make you say “Awwww”

Think back to when you brought Fido or Fluffy home for the very first time. Weren’t they just the cutest things ever?! Scientists in the UK have found just what it is that gives our furry friends their “Awww Factor” — and you’ve probably been able to spot it since you were a toddler.

Is the ability to recognize cuteness written in our genes?

Researchers at the University of Lincoln in the UK certainly think so. And it’s not just true for adults — children as young as three can also recognize the cute factor in both humans and animals.

Animal lovers probably won’t be surprised to learn that the children who took part in this study rated puppies and kittens (okay… and babies) as cuter than their adult counterparts. The researchers say this comes to what’s known as ‘baby schema’ — juvenile features such as a round face, high forehead, big eyes and a small nose and mouth. It’s not a conscious thing, but when we see these kinds of features, we’re internally prompted to be caring and protective; in adults the appearance of these features even reduces aggression. Scientists have long known that baby schema have a powerful effect on adults, but this is the first time it has been observed in children.

So, how’d they figure it out? They showed the kids sets of photos (like the one above) of babies, puppies and kittens and their adult counterparts, then tracked their eye movements to see which facial areas the children were most drawn to. They were also asked to rate the canine, feline and human images based on ‘cuteness’. The researchers made things even more interesting by digitally manipulating the images of the dogs, cats and humans to make them appear cuter (larger features) or less cute (narrower features).

Not only did the kids rank puppies, kittens and babies as cuter than their adult equivalents, but adult dogs were rated as cuter than both adult cats and humans. Dog lovers rejoice! (But cats are awesome, too. Humans? They’re so-so, if you ask me.)

As much fun as might sound to study ‘cuteness’ all day, the studies will actually have a real-world impact. Further research will be conducted to determine if dogs’ supposed ‘cute factor’ overrides children’s ability to recognize stress signals in our canine companions. Researchers will also take a look at how an animal’s perceived cuteness can affect their ability to get adopted from a rescue shelter.

[Source: Daily Mail]

Christina Peden
Christina Peden

Christina Peden is a lifelong animal lover and avid wordsmith. She lives in Toronto with her boyfriend Ryan where they are proud pet parents to puppy, Matilda and cat, Oscar. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying Toronto, Canada's all-too-short patio season, taking advantage of the city's numerous parks or curled up with a good book.

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