The Psychology Behind Being ‘Adorable’

Or: Why do we coo over little babies?

It is probably obvious after some reflection on adorability, that we find things that share similar properties to human babies lovable. These features include big eyes, a large head, chubby cheeks, a wobbly walk and a small size. This of course makes sense, as if we automatically find our offspring sweet and fragile-looking, tougher hearts are more likely to transform into protective caretakers - it’s a great tool for our survival.

Of course, cuteness comeswith the unintended consequence of other objects, which share similar traits to babies, often becoming cute too. For example, puppies, kittens and succulents (a bulbous plant with engorged leaves) all seem so lovable as they have round, soft features, just like a baby. The inherent cuteness of specific traits would also explain the word “smol” seeming so inherently cuter than “small”, with its much rounder letter “o” and smaller length. Responses to cuteness trigger activity in the pleasure centre in the brain called the nucleus accumbens. When activated, the nucleus accumbens releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical that is also activated when we get positive social feedback, such as likes on an Instagram post.

‘Cuteness’ also attracts our attention in a biased way, so babies are put into our first priority of conscious thought. In adults, nucleus accumbens gets activated very quickly (140ms) after seeing a baby’s face - which results in babies and other cute animals grabbing our attention so quickly and completely. There are interesting ways that you can use the effect cuteness has on the brain. Researchers have found that looking at cute animal photos before doing a task results in narrowed focus and increased accuracy. Practically, the implications mean taking a few minutes to play with your pet or look up some cute puppies can do you no harm.

Alternatively, filling your environment with rounder, softer objects, can help one to feel calmer, less stressed, and more in control. This can be something as small as switching your rectangular pencil pot for something rounder, or finding a cute mini clock, or taking care of a small succulent.

Anika LV