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  • Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.

  • And The Pet Collective offers 24-hour coverage of puppies and kittens.

  • It's really cute.

  • But what is cute, scientifically?

  • I mean, why do we like soft, cuddly things

  • and why do cute things have a unique effect on us?

  • Well, the word cute is a shortening of acute,

  • which originally meant "keen," "shrewd," "perceptive."

  • About 180 years ago, the word cute began to be used as slang for a girl, who was pretty.

  • And after that, it accrued a new meaning

  • and was used to describe cuddly, delicate, quaint, precious, youthful traits.

  • Konrad Lorenz studied cuteness in living things

  • and put together a great specific list of what we consider cute.

  • Small body size with a disproportionately large head,

  • large eyes, and round and soft body features.

  • But why exactly did these characteristics elicit an "ooooohhh" response from us humans?

  • Well, Lorenz pointed that you could find all of those characteristics in the human baby,

  • which makes sense.

  • If merely looking at our offspring makes us instinctively feel protective and nurturing, well, that's great for all of us.

  • A fun consequence of this is that our experience of cuteness

  • can be triggered by things that aren't human babies.

  • For instance, shells, bunnies, owls and even a hammer.

  • A hammer, how can that be?

  • Take a look at this interactive tool from the Exploratorium.

  • A hammer is boring.

  • But if we apply Lorenz's traits and make it really round and really squat,

  • it goes from a utilitarian tool to a cute little tiny hammer.

  • Oh, he's just a little hammer, don't hurt him.

  • It is a hammer that has become cute,

  • because we gave it qualities that we see in our own offspring.

  • As Daniel Dennett puts it,

  • "if human babies looked like this, instead of that, we would find this cute."

  • And whenever we saw something that looked like it,

  • we would wanna cuddle and snuggle with it.

  • Alright, so we have a pretty good idea about the how and what of cute.

  • But where is cute?

  • Well, researchers have shown cute baby pictures to subjects

  • while using functional MRI to track activity in the brain.

  • And sure enough, the cuter the baby in the picture, the more activation found right here --

  • the nucleus accumbens. A pleasure centre.

  • When activated, the nucleus accumbens releases dopamine.

  • It's all part of our internal reward system.

  • It's the same part of the brain targeted by cocaine and meth.

  • Cuteness is such a powerful force on the brain

  • in fact that it can affect our behaviours -- what we like, what we buy.

  • And so it's no coincidence that the creators of cartoon characters,

  • like Mickey Mouse or Pikachu,

  • have drawn them more and more cute over time.

  • The Japanese concept of Kawaii is a great example of this

  • and it's one that's fun to quantify.

  • If you're an adult, how many of your own heads, stacked on top of each other,

  • do you think it would take to equal your height?

  • The answer for most of us is around 7.5.

  • But illustrations of people that are meant to make them look heroic or noble

  • tend to make the person around 8 to 8.5 heads high.

  • Cute goes the other way.

  • Manga characters tend to only be about 5.5 to 6.5 heads tall.

  • Back to babies.

  • There are many other psychological factors at work

  • that cause us to want to instinctively take care of our young.

  • And to be sure, some of them are decidedly not cute.

  • For instance, poopy diapers.

  • Researchers have found that mothers, when exposed to soiled diapers,

  • tend to consider the smell coming from their own child's diaper to be the least terrible,

  • despite not knowing which diaper belonged to which kid.

  • When something retains juvenile traits all the way through adulthood, it is called neoteny.

  • And we love it, especially in animals that we keep as pets.

  • Of course, us humans have selectively bred all kinds of animals

  • to make each generation more and more useful to us.

  • But the dog may be the animal that we have spent the most time designing,

  • making each generation better at hunting or better at staying cuter for longer.

  • Dogs like this have been designed by us to look, grow and behave in ways that we want.

  • Not that dissimilar from how we would design, say, a DVD player and its features.

  • So whether it's staying cute forever or just being a really great hunting companion,

  • the modern dog, more than any other animal,

  • could be considered not so much a consequence of nature

  • as much as it is a piece of human technology.

  • As Science Friday puts it,

  • "the dog is man's best friend because it may be man's best invention."

  • So go pet a cute dog today.

  • And as always, thanks for watching.

Hey, Vsauce. Michael here.

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Why Are Things Cute?

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    簡簡哲 posted on 2016/06/15
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