March 15, 2023
Ever seen a puppy so cute you just want to squish it? This phenomenon of ‘cute aggression’ stems from our biologically hardwired cuteness response. But why do we care about cuteness? Over thousands of years of evolution of the human brain, it has been shaped to identify cute things and want to care for them. Why? Because our own offspring are born ‘altricial’, meaning they are not fully formed and need a great deal of care. So, we need to think babies are cute so we stick around and care for them until they can care for themselves.
A researcher from the Universities of Oxford and Aarhus used a brain scanning technique called ‘magnetoencephalography’ to observe exactly how this process works in the brain, millisecond by millisecond. The study showed that human brains have evolved to process adult and baby faces differently. When we look at an adult face, visual messages are sent straight to the back of the brain, to the ‘fusiform area,’ for processing. But when we see a baby’s face, those messages flow to the fusiform area and the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved with pleasure and emotions. In this way, our brains process babies’ faces as not just faces, but cute faces.
However, human babies aren’t the only faces we find cute. Because puppies and kittens have the same sort of big-eyed, big-eared cute proportions as babies we also process their faces as cute. But why are their faces cute? Because humans have been influencing their genetics through selective breeding for thousands of years. So, our naturally evolved genes have made us think our own babies are cute (so we take care of them) and then we as a species have worked to artificially influence the genes of other species to make them cute too!
Source: Science Focus
Read more: https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/neuroscience-of-cute/