Warning: this post contains scenes of extreme cuteness and adorability. Reader discretion is advised.
Scientists have, for the first time, proved systematically that tiny little kittens and puppies are actually cute. It sounds incredibly obvious; even the coldest, stony-hearted grinches out there will melt at the sight of a baby animal looking up at them.
But why is this so? What is it that makes us fall in love with these tiny critters? It turns out that these baby animals are cute for much the same reasons that baby humans are. Large, low lying eyes, a big forehead and a small chin are all hallmarks of babies. The combination of these traits is a sign of youth. While the rest of the baby will grow, the eyes do not, so they appear relatively smaller as we age. We, therefore, associated big eyes with youth. Similarly, our noses grow relatively faster than the rest of us, so big noses are a sign of age. These characteristics also apply to non-human animals, like cats and dogs. We recognise these signs of infant facial features in dogs and cats, and so will develop a bond that is similar to that between parent and child.
The research, published in the journal Ethology, found that new parents found faces with infant features more attractive than those without children. Similarly, women showed higher ratings than men for infant features. Adult dogs and cats that had these features of infants were viewed as more attractive, as were teddy bears with more youthful faces. You can even observe Mickey Mouse becoming more attractive over the years, as he takes on more youthful characteristics. Over the 83 years since his creation, his nose has become smaller, his eyes bigger and brighter and his forehead has bulged significantly.
While our approval of babyish faces evolved to aid in the care and survival of our offspring, the generalised nature of its expression has meant ‘mothering’ of other species can happen, as we anthropomorphise our pets. This includes using baby talk, dressing them up, and referring to them as people. What is surprising is this coddling of other species is not limited to humans. Bonobos have been known to care for baby monkeys. There has even been a case of a chimpanzee bonding with two tiger cubs in a zoo.