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  • Hey, guys, Joe here. So, I'm a dad now.

  • And my wife got me these socks; they're covered in my son's face, pretty much the cutest socks ever.

  • And my wife got me these socks.

  • They're covered in my son's face.

  • Pretty much the cutest socks ever.

  • So, now that I'm a dad, I realize I'm basically only gonna watch animated movies for the next decade.

  • As I started thinking back about all the great Disney movies through the years, I noticed something weird has been happening to the princesses.

  • In the earliest Disney films, the princesses more or less look like real, human women.

  • But through the years, something strange happens.

  • Heads get bigger compared to their bodies, and their eyes get bigger compared to their heads.

  • By the time we get to Elsa, it's clear this 22-year-old "Frozen" princess doesn't look like an adult female.

  • She has the body ratios of an 8-year-old.

  • Moana is supposedly 16 years old, but she has the body ratios of a 4-year-old.

  • Disney princesses have been looking more and more like children.

  • And this case of the Benjamin Buttons isn't just happening to princesses.

  • In fact, this is true all over Toontown.

  • The designs of almost all cartoon characters change over time, and almost always in the same way.

  • As they get older, they age in reverse.

  • As we develop, we get a literal "head start"; our arms, legs, and bodies catch up as we get older.

  • That's why a newborn's eyes are already 75% of their adult diameter, and our brains hit 55% of their adult volume by 3 months of age.

  • Small bodies, big heads, big eyes.

  • Biologist Konrad Lorenz speculated that these babyish features trigger an instinct in adult mammals to give love and attention.

  • When I show you this photo of a kitten, something happens in your brain that makes you want to cuddle and feed itunless you're some kind of unfeeling monster.

  • In other words, "cuteness" is nature's secret weapon to persuade adults into caring for babies.

  • Disney is just using the same biological trick to encourage audiences to root for their characters.

  • That's why cartoon protagonists tend to have juvenile characteristics, and the villains... not so much.

  • But this doesn't just happen in Fantasyland.

  • Which would you rather cuddle?

  • This Cavalier King Charles Spaniel?

  • Or this wolf?

  • This floppy-eared ball of snuggles has been selectively bred to be cute.

  • It retains juvenile features into adulthood, or, what biologists call "neoteny".

  • We see neoteny in many domesticated animals.

  • Although selecting for cuteness can explain the Spaniel, animals like pigs show neoteny, too.

  • Why would ancient humans care about the cuddleability of something they were raising for bacon?

  • Well, maybe cuteness is just a side effect.

  • The most important trait in becoming a domesticated animal is tameness.

  • Whether it's a companion, a worker, or a food source, you can't have a productive relationship with fearful or aggressive animals.

  • That fight-or-flight response is something that most animals only acquire as they get olderbaby animals are pretty chill with humans.

  • So, an animal that somehow never "grows up" in that sense might make the best candidate for domestication.

  • Beginning in the 1950s, Soviet scientist Dmitry Belyaev began a breeding experiment to study this idea, using wild silver foxes.

  • The foxes were tested for their reaction to human contact, and only the foxes that were friendly toward experimenters were allowed to breed.

  • After just 20 generations, his foxes had not only changed in behavior, but also in appearance.

  • Floppy ears, smaller jaws, and shorter tails that now wagged whenever humans were around.

  • Belyaev noted changes in hormones and brain chemistry that he suspected were capable of reshaping the foxes' external features.

  • What does this tell us?

  • Well, if you select for one childish trait, a bunch of others tend to come along with it.

  • Evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould noticed that the same was true of the world's most famous cartoon character: Mickey Mouse.

  • OG Mickey was... kind of a jerk.

  • But as his personality got softer and sweeter, so did his appearance.

  • By the 1950s, Mickey had not only become the child-like mouse we know today, he'd become a nice guy.

  • But beyond pets or cartoons, you can also see neoteny in yourself.

  • Most biologists agree that humans are, in many ways, big babies.

  • Compared to other adult primates, we grow less body hair, we have shorter limbs, and flatter faces.

  • And if you compare how much a chimp's skull morphs as it matures, you can see that our skull shape changes much less.

  • Our neoteny offered us lots of evolutionary advantages.

  • Less body hair meant we could run farther in that African heat, and our faces were more visible to each other as social interaction became more important.

  • Also, suppressing our own fight-or-flight response meant we could cooperate and organize in larger numbers.

  • And, most importantly, these big brains need a lot of room and time to develop, which is why we rely on our parents for much longer than most mammals.

  • It might not be a coincidence that the more complex our society gets, the more time humans need to become independent.

  • Childhood is a time for experimentation and learning; most animals get locked into pretty rigid programs by the time they're adults.

  • But, by extending our childhood into adulthood, we can learn and change as long as we live.

  • Maybe that's why so many of us still love cartoons.

  • Because we may get old, but we never grow up; that's what makes us human.

  • Stay curious.

Hey, guys, Joe here. So, I'm a dad now.

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B1 US cuteness adult cuddle juvenile domesticated floppy

Why Do Disney Princesses All Look Like Babies?

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    April Lu posted on 2022/03/12
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