Science of CuteOn any given day in our household you will inevitably hear, “Come quick, look what the cat’s doing!  It’s so cute!”  She’s tucked into a cabinet with the canned goods, browsing a bookshelf, poking into the medicine cabinet, or sleeping luxuriously with her tail daintily covering her eyes.  Cuddles is our 12-year-old tuxedo (mostly black with a white belly and paws).  Or, as cat lovers will clarify, we are her humans.  We can’t get enough of her antics.  She is the Queen of Cute.

Are we nuts?  Maybe, but we’re in good company.  It’s no accident that animal pictures and videos are all over social media.  Videos of cats, dogs and other animal cuties get millions of hits on YouTube.

Unable to drink because of headaches, I tune into Animal Planet’s Too Cute when stressed, instead of pouring a glass of Zinfandel.  The series follows three sets of kittens or puppies from birth to about three months and their adoption to what animal people call their “forever homes.”  You can enjoy Too Cute excerpts on TV or the Animal Planet website, or tune into their Puppy Cam or Kitty Cam to indulge in real time cuteness at the Washington D.C. Animal Rescue League.

Considering the pleasure and companionship we get from our pets, maybe they should call it the Human Rescue League.  Cuddles chose me at a shelter.  Really.  I sat on the floor, opened a cage full of kittens and she walked onto my leg.

There are scientific, even evolutionary, explanations for our love of cute.  Human reactions to seeing adorable animals and babies have been studied.  (What hasn’t?)  Cute stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.  We have an instinctive reaction to the adorableness which draws us to the little ones’ helplessness.  We want to pat, hug and protect them.  A study at St. Andrews Hospital in Scotland concluded that while both genders react to cute, women do more so, with female hormones acting as cute enablers.

Researchers at the University of Virginia conducted experiments to test the hypothesis that viewing images of cute creatures makes people behave more carefully, increasing their fine motor skills and thus their ability to care for a small child.  They determined that looking at these images led to improved performance on tasks requiring fine motor dexterity.  We humans, they explained, are especially attuned to the physical features that characterize our young, especially their little rounded foreheads, big eyes and tiny chins.  We react to cute with affection, staring, baby talk and other high-pitched nonsense, and the willingness to forgive all sins.  “Cuteness,” the researchers concluded, “is a releaser of the human care giving system.”

I have to confess that I also have a thing for talking animals.  Eddie Murphy’s two Dr. Doolittle movies and Babe are among my favorites.  The British series Animal Crackers gives hilarious voice to nature videos.  They’re as entertaining as Ricky Gervais’ “Guinea Pig Speaks Out.” There is a YouTube Talking Animals Channel for those so inclined.  Don’t miss their series of animals singing Christmas carols.  I’m not sure why these movies and videos crack me up, but who cares?  A good laugh and a dose of cute gets me through many a challenging day.


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