“Infants attract us through all our senses, which helps make cuteness one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behaviour,” said one of the researchers, Morten Kringelbach, from the University of Oxford.
Reviewing the emerging literature on how cute infants and animals affect the brain, the research team found that cuteness supports key parental capacities by igniting fast privileged neural activity.
It follows a slower processing in large brain networks which are also involved in empathy, and perhaps even higher-order moral emotions.
The data showed that definitions of cuteness should not be limited just to visual features but include positive infant sounds and smells.
From an evolutionary stand-point, cuteness is a very potent protective mechanism that ensures survival for otherwise completely dependent infants. “This is the first evidence of its kind to show that cuteness helps infants to survive by eliciting caregiving, which cannot be reduced to simple, instinctual behaviours,” Kringelbach said.
The study, published in the journal ‘Trends in Cognitive Sciences’, shows that cuteness affects both men and women, even those without children.